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Introductory Note 1 

Civil Disobedience 21 

A Plea for Captain John Brown 51 ' 

Thb Last Days or John Brown 82 " 

Paradise (to be) Regained 91 

Life without Principle 115 > 



%nti'^hbtx]n mxH §lef0rm papers. 


The character and opinions of Henry David Thoreau 
have for the most part been a stumbling-block to the 
judgment of his critics. As the early naturalists were 
puzzled to account for the peculiar structure of the bat^ 
which did not readily adapt itself to their established 
system of classification, so the literary critics have been 
perplexed and baffled by the elusive qualities of this 
unique personality, who flits unclassified along the con- 
fines of civilization and wildness. One who ^^was bred to 
no profession; who never married; who lived alone; 
who never went to church ; who never voted ; who re- 
fused to pay a tax to the State ; who ate no flesh, who 
drank no wine, who never knew the use of tobacco ; and 
though a naturalist, used neither trap nor gun,'' — it is 
evident that such a man must appear unreasonable and 
contumacious to those who have never seriously ques- 
tioned the shibboleths of social order and respectability. 
If an individual findsjhi mself in conflict with aonietyj ifc 
is assumed to be the fault of the in dividual ; he is per- 

le, or selfish, or cynical , and the duties of 

A nti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

cifcizenship^ have not been rightly^apprehendedJ'y ^im. 
Such is the common charge against Thoreau, who, as 
Professor Nichol had explained to us in his '^American 
Literature,** was ^'lethargic, self-complacently defiant, and 
too nearly a stoico-epicurean adiaphorist to discompose 
himself in party or even in national strifes/' Thoreau 
was a '^ stoico-epicurean adiaphorist,*' or nearly so : such 
is the critical verdict on him. These are hard words 
(in more senses than one), and before acquiescing in 
them, it may be well to test their accuracy by reference 
to the life and writings of him to whom they are applied. 
On what social subjects was Thoreau an indifferentist, and 
on what was he not so ? A study of his '^ Anti-Slavery 
and Reform Papers ** will perhaps show him in a new 
light to those who know hifn only by Walden or the 
Diaries. 4 

The facts of Thoreau's life can here be only summar- 
ized. He was born at Concord, Massachusetts, on July 
12, 1817, being the third child of a worthy but un- 
imaginative pencil-maker, of French extraction, whose 
father had emigrated from the Channel Islands to New 
England in 1773. Henry Thoreau was educated at 
Harvard University, where, though known as a sound 
classical scholar, he was looked upon by his class-mates 
as dull, phlegmatic, and unimpressionable. But after 
his return to Concord in 1838, there was a remarkable 
awakening of the energies that lay dormant and unsus- 
pected in his mind, the immediate cause of this change 
being the quickening influence of Emerson and the rise of 
the transcendental school of thought. The presence of 
Emerson at Concord (he settled there in 1834) had the 
effect of transforming that quiet village into the centre 

Introductory Note, 

of a social and philosophic movement which attracted 
many earnest thinkers ; and among these ^' apostles of the 
newness/' who preached, an ideal simplicity both in life 
and art, there was none more single-hearted and resolute 
than Henry Thoreau. 

The remainder of his life was spent in his native 
village or its neighborhood, varied by occasional brief 
visits to Boston or New York, and more lengthy excur- 
sions to Canada, the mountains of New Hampshire, the 
forests of Maine, and the sandy peninsula of Cape Cod. 
His thrifty, self-contented nature did not need the 
stimulus of travel, in the ordinary sense ; it was at once 
his pleasure and his profit to fiad in Concord all the 
material of his thought, (^fter a brief experience of 
school-keeping, he supported himself by pencil-making,^ 
land-surveying, and various odd pieces of handicraft, his 
singular aptness and dexterity enabling him to satisfy \ 
the few wants of his existence (for he deliberately mini- 
mised his wants in order to secure greater leisure and 
personal liberty) by a very small outlay of remunerative 
labour, and so to devote himself more freely to what he 
considered the real business of his life, the study of wild tf^ 
nature, which eai'ned him the appropriate title of the 
^^ poet-naturalist." ; He died at Concord, in 1862, of pul- 
monary consumption, the result of a cold caught while 
botanizing in severe winter weather. 

Thoreau's singular personality has thus been described 
by Emerson. ^^ Henry was homely in appearance, a 
rugged stone hewn from the cliff. I believe it is ac- 
corded to all men to be moderately homely. But he 
surpassed sex. He had a beautiful smile, and an earnest 
look. His character reminds me of Massillon. One 



Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

could jeopard anything on him. A limpid man^ a realist 
with caustic eyes that looked through all words and 
shows and bearing with terrible perception ! ^'^ ^' Thoreau 
was a Stoic/' says G. W. Curtis/ "bnt he was in no 
sense a cynic. His neighbors in the village thought 
him odd and whimsical, but his practical skill as a sur- 
veyor and in woodcraft was known to them. No man 
was his enemy, and some of the best were his fastest 
friends. But his life was essentially solitary and reserved. 
Careless of appearances in later days, when his hair and 
beard were long, if you had seen him in the woods, you 
might have fancied Orson passing by ; but had you 
stopped to talk with him, you would have felt that you 
had seen the shepherd of Admetus' flock, or chatted with 
a wiser Jaques.^' The same writer has graphically de- 
scribed the characteristic rigour of Thoreau's personal 
manner — his " erect posture, which made it seem impos- 
sible that he should ever lounge or slouch, and which 
made Hawthorne speak of him as * cast-iron,* " and his 
" staccato style of speech, every word coming separately 
and distinctly, as if preserving the same cool isolation in 
the sentence that the speaker did in society.*' 

The most intimate of Thoreau's friends were Emerson, 
Ellery Channing, Alcott, Harrison Blake, Daniel Ricket- 
son, and F. B. Sanborn, all of whom have expressed the 
strongest admiration for the nobility and purity of his 
genius. It has been his misfortune — or rather the mis- 
ibrtune of a later generation of readers — that his eccen- 
tricities have been magnified out of all due proportion by 

' Kecorded by 0. J. Woodbury, Century Magazine, Feb., 1890. 
* Harper's Magazine, July, 1862. 

Introductory Note, S 


critics who have failed to apprehend the true key to his 
character. ^* I have myself walked, talked, and corres- 
ponded with him," says Colonel Wentworth Higginson,^ 
" and can testify that while tinged here and there, like 
most New England thinkers of his time, with the manner 
of Emerson, he was yet, as a companion, essentially origi- 
nal, wholesome, and enjoyable. Though more or less of a 
humorist, nursing liis own whims, and capable of being 
tiresome when they came uppermost, he was easily led 
away from them to the vast domains of literature and 
nature, and then poured forth endless streams of the most 
interesting talk." As a lecturer — for lecturing was 
another occasional employment of this transcendental 
jack-of-all- trades — Thoreau is said to have been some- 
what of an enigma to his audiences. It was not his 
purpose, as he himself tells in his essay on ^* Life without 
Principle," to deal merely in trivial and popular gener- 
alities, but rather to give utterance to his "privatest 
experiences," and, at the risk of wearying his listeners, 
to treat them to '^ a strong dose of himself.'* 

^The most vital of all Thoreau's convictions was his 
fixed, unalterable faith in individuality and self-reliance. 
Idealist though he was, he had a shrewd, practical cast of 
mind which made him keenly aware of the incongruities 
involved in many of the social schemes which were so 
abundantly put forward during the transcendentalist 
revival ; it was not to co-operation that he l ooked for the 
regeneration of society, but to the elforts of on e man — 
that is, of each man^^^v^loping^andjieiiecting his own 
individual powers. His attitude on this point is well 

1 " Short Studies of American Authors," Boston, 1888. 


Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 



shown in the essay contributed to the Democratic Review 
in 1843, under the title of *' Paradise (to be) Regained/^ a 
notice, ironical in tone, yet kindly withal, of a Fourierite 
volume which advocated a method of speedily realizing 
the millennium by means of co-operation and machinery. 
For the same reason, when a section of the transcenden- 
talist party was occupied in organizing communities at 
Brook Farm and elsewhere, Thoreau stood resolutely 
aloof, preferring to achieve his independence by what was 
to him the surer and more congenial method of simplify- 
ing- his own life. "As for these communities,'^ he wrote 
in 1841, *■'! would rather keep bachelor's hall in hell 
than go to board in heaven. The boarder has no home. 
In heaven I hope to bake my own bread and clean my 
own linen.'' 

"^ It was this same individualistic tendency that led him 
to make his now famous retirement to the shore of 
Walden Pond, where, in 1845, he built himself a shanty, 
in which he lived for over two years, as has been inimit- 
ably related by him in the most characteristic and widely 
appreciated of his writings. It should be noted, how- 
ever, that this sojourn in the woods, though perhaps the 
most striking episode of his career, was an episode only, 
and occupied but a tenth part of his mature life ; it was 
simply a period of self-trial and communion with nature, 
in which he tested the soundness and eflBcacy of those 
intellectual weapons of which, as we shall see, he after- 
wards made brilliant use. It is therefore a misunder- 
standing, none the less complete because it is so common, 
to regard Thoreau as a cynical recluse, coldly indifferent 
to the interests and welfare of his fellow-men. He went 
to Walden, as he himself recorded, for a definite purpose. 



Introductory Note. 

to transact some private business with the fewest 
obstacles ^^; this parpose accomplished, he left the woods 
" for as good a reason as he went there." The farther 
notion that the Walden experiment was designed to be 
" an entire independency of mankind/' owes its origin 
not to Thoreau himself, but to the inventiveness of 
certain of his critics, who, being minded to prove him a 
fool, found it convenient to invest him gratuitously with 
the insignia of folly. " 

Thoreau's anarchi st princip leSj which play so important 
a part in the " An ti- Slavery and Reform Papers," were 
a direct outcome of this natural individualism. When 

'quite a youn g man, he had heftr\hroiig]jjjjjxt o finllis innj 
as hQ tells us ir^ ^ia^ssay on "Civil Disobfidifisce/' with 

^that power of which he always remained a s wom ^enemy 

^. the State — his refusal <^0 p ^ y t.hfl p.}inrpli,r fl±ftj ftnfnrpftrl 

by the Massachusetts Gov ernment on the members of the 
various religious congregations, bftingtha-oause of the 
disagreement.^ He also, like his friend Alcott, declined 
to pay the annual poll-tax, for which continued act of 
contumacy he was arrested in the autumn of 1845 (his 
first year at Walden), and lodged fbr a night in the gaol 
at Concord, a novel experience of which he has himself 
given us a characteristic description. Tbfi__immediate 
cause of this withdrawal of allegiance on the part of one 
who was in reality American to the backbone in his 

* Thoreau had been brought up as a member of Dr. Ripley's 
Unitarian Church at Concord, but seceded in 1838, or soon 
afterwards. He was a pantheist in religious opinions, the only 
ritual which he attended being that of the " Sunday Walkers,'* 
or " Walden Pond Association," as it was jocosely styled by the 

8' Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

iK^ sympathies and predilections was the iniquity, as he 
^conceived it, of the war then being waged by the United 
•^ States on Mexico, in pursuance of their policy of annex- 
ing Texas, and fostering territorial disputes — an iniquity 
which made him declare that under such a Government 
the only place for an honest man was in prison. ''Henry, 
why are you here?'^ said Emerson, in astonishment, 
when he visited his friend in the village prison. " Why 
, are you not here ? '' was the emphatic rejoinder. On 
this, as on other occasions, the required tax was paid on 
Thoreau's behalf by one of his friends, an arrangement 
against which he protested, but which he was presum- 
ably unable to prevent. 

But though this policy of territorial aggression, and 
still more (as we shall see) the sanction given by Massa- 
chusetts to the institution of slavery, were the ostensible- 
causes of Thoreau^s rebellion against the State, it can 
hardly be doubted that a man of so individualistic a 
temperament must in any event have been placed in 
antagonism, in theory at any rate, to the existing form of 
government ; and ThQj:§aiilJhas expoun^ded^ his anarchist 
doctrines w ith considerable frankness in his vigo rous 
essays on " Civil Disobedie nce ^^ and '' Slavery in Massa- 
chusetts/^ ''I heartily accept,^' he says, "the motto 
'that government is best which governs least'; and I 
should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and 
systematically .'' He unhesitatingly asserts _the_jBntire 
independence of the individual, in all matters where 
conscience is concerned, as opposed to those of mere 
expediency. " Must the citizen ever for a moment, or iu 
the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator ? 
Why has every man a conscience, then ? I think we 



I/. J 

Introductory Note. 

should be men first, and subjects afterwards. I fc is no t 
desirabl e to cultivate a respect for the law, so m uch as 
fo r^the rig ht. The only obligation which I have a right 
to assume, is to do at any time what 1 think right.'* 
Policy, he insists^ is not moral ity. ^' What is wanted is 
men, not of policy, but of probity. . . . The fate of 
the country does not depend on what kind of paper you 
drop into the ballot-box once a year, but on what kind 
of man you drop from your chamber into the street every 
morning/' At the^ama-tima it. mast-ha.noted jthat he 
admits tha t many reform s are neede^^^and while assert- 
ing anarchism_as_.thfijjdfial of the future,_does not deny 
that wise legislation may be advisable in the present. 

W hat he^em ands is ''not at once no government, but at 
once a better government/' 

Thoreau 's anarchis m is, in _briefi_ the claim for the 
individual j iari of the righ ts of free growth and na tural 
de velopment from withi n — the same claim that has been 
advanced in other words by Whitman, and Tolstoi, and 
Ibsen, and William Morris, and other prophets of de- 
mocracy in the old world and the new. Such a belief 
does not indicate in Thoreau's case, any more than in 
the others named, a selfish indifierence to the great 
questions that agitate mankind ; on the contrary, there 
is evidence enough in this very essay on " Civil Dis- 
obedience'' to convince any impartial reader of the 
earnest feeling by which the writer was inspired — even 
if he had not given further practical proof of his zeal 
for humanity in the course taken by him in the great 
party — or shall we call it national-^r-strife of negro 

How should our *' stoico- epicurean adiaphorist" care 



lO Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

"to discompose himself^' on the subject of negro-slavery, 
especially at a time when the mass of respectable citizens 
were fiercely opposed to abolition, and there was real 
danger in advocating so unpopular and revolutionary a 
cause ? YetJCliQEeaa ia fieen. to have been from fir^ 
last an ardent abolitionist ; he was brought up. i n ^ 
atmosphere of abolitionism, his fetheii^aJhouaa at Concord 
being used as one of the meeting-places of anti-slavery 
V agitators ; and it is said that on the occasion of the great 
meeting addressed by Emerson at Concord, in 1844, 
Thoreau had rung the bell of the town hall — an act 
afterwards remembered by him with lively satisfaction.^ 
Furthermore, there is good reason to suppose that the 
hut at Walden was used as a station on that great 
" Underground Railroad/' by which so many slaves were 
assisted in their flight/from the southern States to 
Canada. Thoreau himself mentions *'one real runaway 
slave, whom he had helped to forward toward the north 
star,'' and his friend and biographer, Ellery Channing, 
has recorded that " not one slave alone was expedited to 
Canada by Thoreau's personal assistance/' It is difficult 
for English readers at this date to realize adequately 
what a storm of disapproval, and often of personal 
violence, had to be met and endured by the New Eng- 
land abolitionists of fifty years ago, when public feeling, 
even in the North, was strongly in favour of the main- 
tenance of the *^ sacred rights of property " of the 

* Samuel Hoar, a neighbour of Thoreau's at Concord, a man 
of senatorial rank, was sent, in 1844, by the State of Massachu- 
setts, to South Carolina, to test the legality of the imprisonment 
of free negro sailors in southern ports. His inhospitable 
treatment by the South Carolina Government is referred to by 
Thoreau, pp. 34-35. 


Introductory Note, il 

Virginian slave-holder, and when the plea of humanity 
was contemptuously disregarded as irrelevant and im- 

In 1850, when the tide of opinion was already on the 
turn, the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law, which en- 
abled the owners of escaped slaves to recover their living 
chattels from the free cities of the North, created intense 
indignation among the Massachusetts abolitionists,^ and 
led to rioting at Boston on the occasion of the rendition 
of Simms in 1851 and Anthony Burns in 1854. Thoreau 
deals with this question in his essay on ^' Slavery iu 
Massachusetts,^^ which was read as a lecture at Fram- 
ingham on July 4th, 1854, and afterwards printed in the 
Liberator, the organ of abolition, which had been esta- 
blished by William Lloyd Garrison at Boston in 1831. 
In burning words, which retain their freshness and signi- 
ficance long after the details they treat of are forgotten, 
he denounces the selfishness and folly of those citizens of 
Massachusetts who could celebrate the national Inde- 
pendence Day a week after the rendition of an innocent 
man to slavery. ^' Now-a-days,'^ he says, " men wear a 
fooFs cap, and call it a liberty cap. I do not know but 
there are some who, if they were tied to a whipping-post 
and could get but one hand free, would use it to ring the 
bells and fire the cannons to celebrate their liberty. So 
some of my townsmen took the liberty to ring and fire. 
That was the extent of their freedom ; and when the 
sound of the bells died away, their liberty died away 
also; when the powder was all expended, thefir liberty 

^ This was the occasion of Daniel Webster's apostasy from 
the anti-slavery cause. It is noticeable that Thoreau regarded 
Webster as a mere opportunist at an early period. See p. 47. 


12 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 

went off with the smoke/' So, too, of the time-serviag 
journals, which, in the heat of this contest between 
freedom and slavery, could deliberately subordinate the 
claims of justice to the claims of expediency. " When I 
have taken up this paper,'' says Thoreau, in reference to 
a Boston publication, " I have heard the gurgling of the 
sewer through every column." 

Philosophical indiflferentism, it will be seen, finds little 
place in these ^'Anti-Slavery Papers." Could the follow- . 
ing passage, for example, have possibly been written by- 
one who was selfishly indifferent to the duties of citizen- 
/^ship and humanity ? "I have lived for the last month — 
and I think that every man in Massachusetts capable of 
the sentiment of patriotism must have had a similar ex- 
perience — with the sense of having suffered a vast and 
indefinite loss. I did not know at first what ailed me. 
At last it occurred to me that what I had lost was a 
country. I had never respected the Government near to 
which I lived ; but I had foolishly thought that I might 
manage to live here, minding my private affairs, and for- 
get it. For my own part, my old and worthiest pursuits 
have lost I cannot say how much of their attraction ; and 
I feel that my investment in life here is worth many per 
cent, less since Massachusetts last deliberately sent back 
an innocent man, Anthony Burns, to slavery." 

It has been said by more than one critic that Thoreau 
was devoid of pity. It is instructive, in this connection, 
to read the words of one who happened to be present in 
the house of Thoreau's father on an occasion when a 
fugitive slave was in concealment there.^ " I sat and 

* Moncure D. Conway, Fraser'e Magazine, April, 1866. 



Introductory Note. 13 

watched the singularly lowly and tender devotion of the 
scholar to the slave. He must be fed, his swollen feet 
batheji, and he must think of nothing but rest. Again 
and again this coolest and calmest of men drew near to 
the trembling negro, and bade him feel at home. He 
could not walk this day, but must mount guard over the 
fugitive, for slave-hunters were not extinct in those 

The most brilliant of Thoreau's "Anti-Slavery Papers,'' 
and, indeed, the most impassioned of all his writings, is 
the " Plea for Captain John Brown." John Brown was 
first introduced to Thoreau by F. B. Sanborn, in the 
spring of 1857, when he visited Concord, and addressed 
a meeting of citizens in the Town Hall. "On the day ap- 
pointed,'' says Mr. Sanborn,^ "Brown went up from Bos- 
ton at noon, and dined with Mr. Thoreau, then a member 
of his father's family, and residing not far from the rail- 
road station. The two idealists, both of them in revolt 
against the civil government because of its base sub- 
servience to slavery, found themselves friends from the 
beginning of their acquaintance. They sat after dinner 
discussing the events of the border warfare in Kansas, 
and Brown's share in them, when, as it often happened, 
Mr. Emerson called at Mr. Thoreau's door on some 
errand to his friend. Thus the three men met under the 
same roof, and found that they held the same opinion 
of what was then uppermost in the mind ^^Brown." 
Thoreau's admiration of the massive strength and 
earnestness of Brown's character was instant and un- 
alterable. " He worshipped a hero in mortal disguise," 

» " Memoirs of John Brown," 1878. 

14 A nti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

says Channing, *' under the shape of that homely son of 
justice; his pulses thrilled and his hands involuntarily 

' clenched together at the mention of Captain Brown/' 
Two years and a half later, Brown was again in Con- 
cord, and started from that place on his final expedition 
to Harper's Ferry, where, after seizing the arsenal, he 
was overpowered and captured, on Oct 18th, 1859, in 
an attempt to organize an insurrection among the Vir- 
ginian slaves. From the first there was little doubt that 
his life would be the price exacted for this culminating 
act of boldness, which was virulently denounced by the 
almost unanimous voice of the American press, and was 
deprecated even by abolitionists as ill-considered and un- 
seasonable. It was at this juncture that Thoreau came 
forward publicly with his " Plea for Captain John 
Brown," which was read in the Concord Town Hall on 
Oct. 30th, and again at Boston on Nov. 1st, and on each 
occasion was received with deep attention and respect 

I by a crowded audience. It is an emphatic endorsement 

\ of Brown's action as entirely humane, rational, and right- 
'' I principled — justified by the monstrous wickedness of the 

/ slave-holding system with which he was at war. *' I 
shall not be forward," said Thoreau, "to think him 
mistaken in his method who quickest succeeds in 
liberating the slave. I do not wish to kill nor to be 
killed, but I can foresee circumstances in which both 
these things would be by me unavoidable." The first 
public word spoken in defence of the hero-martyr of 
abolition, this essay is a worthy monument of the genius 
of both its subject and its author, men so unlike in many 
points of character and education, yet animated by the 
same intense hatred of cruelty and injustice. 

i ^ 

Introductory Note. 15 

" The Last Days of John Brown '' is a written speech 
delivered at an anti-slavery meeting at North Elba, 
Brown^s home and burial-place, in July, 1860. It was 
not read by Thoreau himself, but by the secretary of the 
meeting, who informed the audience that he had lately 
received the manuscript from the hand of its author as 
he was passing through Concord on his way to North 
Elba. This essay, which was written after Brown's exe- 
cution on Dec. 2nd, 1859 (on which day a memorial 
service was held in the Concord Town Hall by Emerson, 
Alcott, Sanborn, Thoreau, and other abolitionists ^), is 
supplementary to the '^ Plea," and is of especial interest 
to students of Thoreau's character as clearly demonstrat-4 
ing the fallacy of regarding him as one whose affections 
were wholly devoted ,to nature to the exclusion of man. 
" For my part," he says, in reference to Brown's death, 
'^ I commonly attend more to nature than to man ; but 
any affecting human event may blind our eyes to natural 
objects. I was so absorbed in him as to be surprised 
whenever I detected the routine of the natural world 
surviving still, or met persons going about their affairs 
indifferent." Here, at any rate, the charge of '^ stoico- 
epicurean adiaphorism " must be applied elsewhere than 
to Thoreau. 

Thoreau's prophecy as to the momentous consequences 
of John Brown's martyrdom did not prove to be mis- 
taken. " If this man's acts and words," he said, ^^do not 
create a revival, it will be the severest possible satire on 
the acts and words that do ; " and within eighteen 
months from when these words were spoken, the civil 

Referred to on p. 83. 

1 6 Anti'Slavery and Reform Papers, 

war had commenced^ and the northern armies were 
marching to the battlefield with John Brown's name as 
their watchword. By this time Thoreau himself had 
been struck down by his fatal illness ; otherwise, as one 
who knew him has remarked, " there is no telling but 
what the civil war might have brought out a wholly new 
aspect of him, as it did for so many/* Mr. Lowell, the 
most unsympathetic of all Thoreau's critics, has asserted 
that '^ while he studied with respectful attention the 
minks and woodchucks, his neighbors, he looked with 
utter contempt on the august drama of destiny, of which 
the curtain had already risen.** No evidence whatever 
is adduced in support of this statement, and it is on the 
face of it inconceivable that Thoreau, most uncompromis- 
ing of abolitionists, should have been indifferent to the 
events of the war by which the question of slavery was 
to be decided. " Was it Thoreau, or Lowell,** asks 
Colonel Wentworth Higginson, "who found a voice 
when the curtain fell, after the first act of that drama, 
upon the scafibld of John Brown ? ** 

Enough has now been said to show that the application 
of the name adiaphorist to Thoreau is mistaken and 
misleading, since he was very far from being regardless 
of the welfare of his fellow-countrymen or of mankind in 
general. It is a complete error to imagine that a man 
whose convictions are so opposed to those of the majority 
as to seem whimsical and quixotic is necessarily an 
indifierentist, or that a protestant, an individualist, a 
solitary, and a free-lance, like Thoreau, is one whit less 
earnest a citizen because he is not content to make the 
course of his life conform to the ordinary social groove ; 
the real indiflerentists are rather they who find it easier 

Introductory Note, 17 

and more comfortable to swim- with the tide, and to 
avoid placing themselves in antagonism to that " public 
opinion" which, in America, even more than in England, 
is so trem.endous a power. The charge of indiflFerentism 
is therefore a perfectly vague and pointless one, unless it 
be shown that the indifference complained of relates to 
matters of real and vital import; to be unconcerned 
about trifles is one thing, to neglect matters of conscience 
is another. Now Thoreau, as we learn from the state- [ 
ments of those who knew him intimately, was absolutely 
indifferent to many things which the man of the world 
holds dear; he did not care for money, or personal 
comforts, or fine clothes, or success in business, or the 
innumerable cumbersome trappings, physical and in- 
tellectual, which are foolishly supposed, by those who 
have never tried to dispense with then), to be an essential 
part of modem civilization. It was his opinion that "a 
man is rich in proportion to the number of things which 
he can afford to let alone '' ; and his general attitude on 
this point may be gathered from that typical reply of his, 
when he was asked which, dish he would prefer at table — 
'' The nearest.". 

But in all cases where principle was at stake, Thoreau^s 
will was as inflexible as the cast iron to which Hawthorne 
compared him ; herein contrasting sharply with the 
mental and moral pliability of the ordinary member 
of society. *^No man," he says, ^^ever stood the lower 
in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet 
1 am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to 
have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, 
than to have a sound conscience," In his fine essay on 
" Life without Principle," he re-enforces those salutary 


1 8 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

though unpopular lessons of integrity and hardihood 
-^ which form the moral of Walden, pointing out, with all 
the incisiveness of speech and felicity of illustration for 
which his style is conspicuous, the follies and sophisms 
1 which underlie the worldly wisdom on which much of 
I our civilized life is based — the useless toil which is 
/ dignified with the name of industry ; the degradation 
/ and loss of freedom by which a so-'called ** independency^' 
is too often purchased ; the immorality of the various 
methods of trading and money-making, respectable or 
the contrary; the hoUowness of much that passes as 
science or religion ; and the ineptitudes and frivolities of 
social* intercourse, which can corrupt and weaken the 
strength and sanctity of the mind. The conclusion of 
the whole matter brings us back to the lesson which 
Thoreau is never tired of repeating — the need of indi- 
viduality and real personal development. " It is for want 
of a man,^' he tells us, in one of his epigrammatic, 
paradoxical utterances, " that there are so many men.'' 
Thoreau' s gospel of social reform may perhaps be not 
unfairly summed up in one word — simplicity. He would 
have each individual test for himself the advantages or 
disadvantages of the various customs and appliances 
which have gradually been amassed in a complex and 
\ artificial state of society, and make sure that in con- 
tinuing to employ them he does so from an actual 
preference, and not from mere force of habit and tradi- 

It has been wittily said of Thoreau, by Dr. O. W. 
Holmes, that he was a would-be " nullifier of civilization, 
who insisted on nibbling his asparagus at the wrong 
end." But in reality there is no such conflict between 

Introductory Note. 19 

simplicity of living and the higher civilization — indeed^ 
a true refinement will never be realized until men have 
learned the wisdom and pleasure of the course which 
Tboreau inculcates. It is important to emphasize the fact 
that it is not civilization in general, but the particular 
vices incidental to civilization, against which his censure 
is directed. While recognising that the civilized state is 
preferable to the uncivilized, he yet maintains that the 
latter is free from certain evils by which the former is 
afflicted, and urges that *^ we may possibly so live as to 
secure all the advantage without sufiering any of the 
disadvantage ^^ of organized society. " To combine the 
hardiness of the savage with the intellectualness of the 
civilized man '^ was the problem to which Thoreau in- 
vited the attention of a self-indulgent and luxurious age, 
and in pursuing this course he did not scruple to avow 
his contempt for many of the pious fictions of con- 
ventional life. The '' Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers,'^ 
apart from their worth as literature, afford a valuable 
corrective of the erroneous notion that the man who 
preached this gospel of simplicity was unable to sym- 
pathize with the higher interests and aspirations of 
mankind. Not such was the opinion of those who had 
the best opportunity of judging him, as may be seen 
from the following memorial lines,^ which convey no 
empty panegyric, but a faithful tribute to the character 
of one of the jus test and humanest of the real men of 
genius whom America has yet produced : — 

* A. Bronson Alcott's " Sonnets and Canzonets. 


20 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers. 



Much do they wrong our Henry, wise and kind, 

Morose who name thee, cynical to men. 
Forsaking manners civil and refined. 

To build thyself in "Walden woods a den, — 
Then flout society, flatter the rude hind. 

We better knew thee, loyal citizen ! 
Thou, friendship's all-adventiiring pioneer. 

Civility ibself wou|4§t fiivih'zft ; 
While braggart boors, wavering 'twixt rage and fear. 

Slave-hearths lay waste and Indian huts surprise. 
And swift the Martyr's gibbet would uprear ; 

Thou hairdst him great whose valorous emprise 
Orion's blazing belt dimmed in the sky, — 
Then bowed thy unrepining head to die." 

H. S. Salt. 

List op Original Editions. 

(1) Published in Thoreau's lifetime : — 

"A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers.'* James 

Munroe, Boston, 1849. 
"Walden ; or, Life in the Woods.** Ticknor & Fields, Boston, 


(2) Posthumous volumes : — ^ 

" Excursions in Field and^orest,** with Memoir by Emerson. 

Ticknor & Fields, Boston, 1863. 
" The Maine Woods.** Ticknor & Fields, Boston, 1864. 
"Cape Cod.** „ „ „ 1865. 

"Letters to Yarious Persons.'* Ticknor & Fields, Boston, 

"A Yankee in Canada, with Anti- Slavery and Reform 

Papers.** Ticknor & Fields, Boston, 1866. 
" Early Spring in Massachusetts." Passages from the 

Journal Edited by H. G. 0. Blake. Houghton, Mifflin 

& Co, Boston, 1881. 
" Summer.** Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston, 1884. 
"Winter.** „ „ „ „ 1888. 







I HEARTILY accept the motto, — " That go vern me nt_^ is 
best which governs least '^ ; and I should like to see it 
acted up toHmore rapidly and systematically. Carried 
out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — 
'' That government is best which governs not at all " ; 
and~wEenj3aen are prepared for it, that will be the kind 
of governm ent which they^il l have^^yCl-overnment is] 

an expedient; but most governments are 
usuallVt^AmL ^ll go ve^ents arg ffnmftfiyi^pg , jnexpedie] 

ijections which have been brought against a stand- 
ing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve 
to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing 
government. The standing army is only an arm of the J^ 
standing government. The government itself, which is 
only the mode which the people have chosen to execute 
their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted 
before the people can act through it. Witness the pre- 
sent Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few indi- 
viduals using the standing government as their tool ; for, 
in the outset, the people would not have consented to 
this measure. 

This American government, r— what is it but a tra- 

* Published in Esthetic Papers, Boston, 1849. 




22 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 

\- I I ■■■[■■■■■II ^ 

dition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit 
itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing 
some of its integrity ? It has not the vitality and force 
of a single living man ; for a single man can bend it to 
his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people them- 
selves. But it is not the less necessary for this ; for the 
people must have some complicated machinery or other, 
and hear its^in, to satisfy that idea of government which 
they have. /Governments show thus how successfully men 
can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their 
own advantage. It is excellent, we must all allow. Yet 
this government never of itself furthered any enterprise,, 
but by the alacrity witb which it got out of its way. It 
does not keep the country free. It does not settle the 
West. It does not educate. The character inherent i 
the American people has done all that has been accom- 
plished ; and it would have done somewhat more, if the 
government had not sometimes got in its way. For 
government is an expedient by whicb men would fain 
succeed in letting one i^nothfir^_&lonej_and, as has been 
said, w^enjt is most exp^i^nt, the governed are most 
let alone by it. (Trade and commerce, if they were not 
made of India-rubber, would never manage to bounce 
over the obstacles whicb legislators are continually put- 
ting in their way ; and, if one were to judge these men 
wholly by the effects of their actions and not partly by 
their intentions, they would deserve to be classed and 
punished with those mischievous persons who put ob- 
structions on the railroads. ) 
-r-^-^ut, to speak practically and as a/citizen^ unlike those 
.^•who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not 
^^at once no government, but at once a better governmenT. 





Civil Disobedience. 23 

Let evcrv man make known what kind of government 
would comu?and his respect, and that will be one step 

tward obtaimng it'. 
After all, the practical reason why, when the power is ^ 
once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, 
and for a long period continue, to rule, is not because 
they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this 
seems fairest to the minority, but because they are 
physically the strongest. ) But a government in which the 
majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, 
even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a 
government in which majorities do not virtually decide 
right and wrong, but conscience ? — in which majorities 
decide only those questions to which the rule of expedi- 
ency is applicable ? Must the(6itizep: ever for a moment, 
or in the least degree, resign his c onscience to the legjs.. 
later ?^ Why has ^vpry TnnTi n. conscience, then ? J I 

/think thfl.t wft slionld ha rrx^n first, and subjects a fter- 
\wa|di>/It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the 
law, so much as for the right. The only obligation whicli 
I have a right to assume is to do at a ny time w 

iF. It Is truly enough said, ihat a corporation 

has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious . 
men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made ^ ^' 
men a whit more just ; and, by means of their respect 
for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agej 
of injustice. A common and natural result of an qmdue 
respect for law is that you may see a file of soldiers, 
colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and 
all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the 
wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense 
and consciences, which makes it very steep marching 



*24 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 




indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart '^ey 
have no doubt that it is a damnable busines* in which 
they are concerned ; they are all peaceably inclined. 
Now, what are they ? Men at all ? or small movable 
forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous 
man in power ? Visit the Navy-yard, and behold a 
marine, such a man as an American government can 
make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts, 
— a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man 
laid out alive and standing, and already, as one may say, 
buried under arms with funeral accompaniments, though 
it may be, — 

" Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, 
As his corse to the rampart we hurried ; 
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot 
O'er the grave where our hero we buried." 

The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men 
mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the 
standing army, and the militia, gaolers^ constables, posse 
comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise 
whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense ; but 
they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and 
stones ; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured 
that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no 
more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They 
have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. 
Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good 
citizens. Others, — as most legislators, politicians, law- 
yers, ministers, and office-holders, — serve the State chiefly 
with their heads ; and, as they rarely make any moral 
distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, withx>ut 
intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots. 




Civil Disobedience. 25 



martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and meUy serve the^ 
/State with their consciences also, and so necessarily ^ 
re^st it for the most part; and they are commonly^ 
treated as enemies by it. A wise man will only be useful 
as a man, and will not submit to be " clay,*' and " stop a 
hole to keep the wind away,'' but leave that office to his 
dust at least :•— 

" I am too high-born to be propertied, 
To be a secondary at control, 
Or nsef ul serving-man and instrument 
To any sovereign state throughout the world." 

yHe who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men ap- j / 
pears to them useless and selfish; but he who gives |y/ 
himself partially to them is pronounced a benefactor and I 

ow does it become a man to behave toward this 
American government to-day ? I answer, that he can- 
not without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for 
an instant recognise that political organization as my 
government which is the slaveys government also. 

All men recognise the right of revolution ; that is, the 
right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the govern- 
ment, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and 
unendurable. But almost all say that such is not the 
case now. But stich was the case, they think, in the 
Revolution of '75. If one were to tell me that this was a v 

bad government because it taxed certain foreign com- 
modities brought to its ports, it is most probable that I 
should not make an ado about it, for I can do without 
them. All machines have their friction; and possibly 
this does enough good to coiinterbalance the evil. At 
any rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about it. But 





/ 26 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 


when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppres- 

^ ion and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have 

Tsuch a machine any longer. In other words, when a 

sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken 

vi to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole 
I country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreignl 
\array, and subjected to military law, I think that it ia/ 
^ot too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. 
What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact, that 
the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the 
invading army. 

Paley, a common authority with many on moral ques- 
tions, in his chapter on the " Duty of Submission to Civil 
Government,^* resolves all civil obligation into expediency; 
and he proceeds to say, '^ that so long as the interest of 
the whole society requires it, that is, so long as the 
established government cannot be resisted or changed 

^(^ without public inccnveniency, it is the will of God that 
the established government be obeyed, and no longer. 
. . . This principle being admitted, the justice of 
every particular case of resistance is reduced to a compu- 
tation of the quality of the danger and grievance on the 
one side, and of the probability and expense of redressing 
t on the other/' Of this, he says, every man shall judge 
for himself. But Paley appears never to have contem- 
plated those cases to which the rule of expediency does 
not apply, in which a people, as well as an individual, 
must do justice, co§t-whatit may. If I have unjustly 
wrested a plank from a drowning man, I must restore it 
to him though I drown myself. This, according to. 
Paley, would be inconvenient. But he that would save 
his life, in such a case, shall lose it. This people must 


Civil Disobedience, 2J 

cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, though ' 
it cost them their existence as a people. 

In their practice, nittion^ agree with Paley ; bat does * 
any one think that Massachusetts does exactly what is 
right at the present crisis ? 

" A drab of state, a cloth-o'-silver slufc, 
To have her train borne up, and her soul trail in the dirt.*' 

Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in 
Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians at 
the South, but a hundred thousand merchants and 
farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and 
agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not pre- 
pared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what 
it may. I quArrel not with far-off foes, but with those 
who, near at home, co-operate with, and do the bidding 
of, those far away, and without whom the latter would be 
harmless. We are accustomed to say, that the mass of 
men are unprepared ; but improvement is slow, because 
the few are not materially wiser or better than the njany. 
It is not so important that many should be as good as 
you, as that there be some absolute goodness somewhere, 
for that will leaven the whole lump. There are thousands/ 
who are m opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, ^ f ' 
who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them ; who,y 
esteeming themselves children of Washington and Fr^k- j^ 
lin, sit down with their hands in tTieir pockets, and say 
that they know not what to do, and do nothing ; who 
even postpone the question of freedom to the question of 
free-trade, and quietly read the prices-current along with 
the latest advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may 
be, fall asleep over them both. What is. the price-current 



28 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

of an honest man and p^riet^ to-day f They hesitate, 
and they regret, and sometimes they petition ; but they 
do nothing in earnest and with eflFect. They will wait, 
well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they 
may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give 
only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and God- 

\ speed, to the right, as it goes by them. There are nine \/ 
V j hundred and ninety nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous 

I man. But it is easier to deal with the real possessor 
of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it. 

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or back- 
gammon with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with 
right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting 
naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is 
not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right ; 
but I am not vitally concerned that that right should 
prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its 
obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. 

I Ev en voting for the right is doin g nothing for it. It is 
only expressin g to men feebly your desire tbat it should 
prev ail. A wise man will not leave the right to the 
J \ mercy of chance, nor wish it to preva il througti the 
power of the maj ority^ There is but little virtue in the'' 
action of masses of men. When the majority shall at 
length vote for the abolition of slavery, ifc will be because 
they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is bub 
little slavery lelt to be abolished by their vote. They^ 

yvf'iM then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasteil 

^^he abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom bjn 
his vote. 

I hear of a convention to be held at Baltimore, or 
elsewhere, for the selection of a candidate for the Presi- 

Civil Disobedience. 29 

dency, made up chiefly of editors, and men who arei 
politicians by profession ; but I think, what is it to any 
independent, intelligent, and respectable man what deci- 
sion they may come to ? Shall we not have the advantage 
of his wisdom and honesty, nevertheless ? Can we not 
count upon some independent votes ? Are there not 
many individuals in the country who do not attend con- 
ventions ? But no : I find that the respectable man, so 
called, has immediately drifted from his position, and 
despairs of his country, when his country has more rea- 
son to despair of him. He forthwith adopts one of the 
candidates thus selected as the only available one, thus 
proving that he is himself available for any purposes of 
the demagogue. His vote is of no more worth than that 
of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling native, who 
may have been bought. Oh for a m^n ^hn iq q ^m/i ^?^ 
and, aa my np ijghb^r i^ayg^ has a bone in his ba^k which 
you cannot jass y our hand througli ! Our statistics are 
at fault : the population has been returned too large. 
How many me^j/' are there to a square thousand miles in 
this country ? Hardly one. Does not America offer 
any inducement for men to settle here ? The American 
has dwindled into an Odd Fellow, — one who may be 
known by the development of his organ of gregarious- 
ness, and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self- 
reliance ; whose first and chief concern, on coming into 
the world, is to see that the Almshouses are in good 
repair ; and, before yet he has lawfully donned the virile 
garb, to collect a fund for the support of the widows 
and orphans that may be; who, in short, ventures to 
live only by the aid of the Mutual Insurance Company, 
which has promised to bury him decently. 


30 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

It is not a man's duty, as a matter of course, to devote 
himself to the eradication of any^ even the most enor- 
mous wrong ; he may still properly have other concerns 
to engage him ; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his 
hands of it, and,(if he gives it no thought longer, not to 
give it practically his support^ If I devote myself to 
other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at 
least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another 
man^s shoulders. I must get oflf him fi^fetJ that he may 
pursue his contemplations too. See what gross incon- 
sistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my towns- 
men say, " I should like to have them order me out to 
lielp put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march 
to Mexico; — see if I would go''; and yet these very 
men have each, directly by their allegiance, and so 
indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a sub- 
Xfititute. The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve 
in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain 
the unjust government which makes the war ; is applaud- 
ed by those whose own act and authority he disregards 
and sets at naught ; as if the State were penitent to that 
degree that it hired one to scourge it while it sinned, but 
not to that degree that it left oflf sinning for a moment.! 
Thus, under the name of Order and Civil Government, 
we are all made at last to pay homage to and support 
our own meanness. Afte r the first blush of sin comes its 
indiflference ; and from immoral it becomes, as it were , 
t^yimoral, and not quite unnecessary to that life which 
/ we have made. 
r The broadest and most prevalent error requires the 
^3 niost disinterested virtue to sustain it. The slight re- 
proach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly 



Civil Disobedience, 31 

liable, the noble are most likely to incur. ITiose who,\ 
Tvhile they disapprove of the character and measures of \ 
a government yield to it their allegiance and support, I ^ 
are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters^ and j 
so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform/ 
Some are petitioning the State to dissolve the Union, to 
disregard tbe requisitions of the President. Why do 
they not dissolve it themselves, — the union between 
themselves and the State, — and refuse to pay their 
quota into its treasury ? Do not they stand in the same 
gelation to the State, that the State does to the Union ? 
And have not the same reasons prevented the State 
from resisting the Union, which have prevented them 
from resisting the State ? 

How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion ^^ 

^ merely and enjoy it ? ) Is there any enjoyment in it, if J 

Lis opinion is that he is aggrieved ? If you are cheated 

out of a single dollar by your neighbor, you do not rest 

satisfied with knowing that you are cheated, or with 

saying that you are cheated, or even with petitioning 

him to pay you your due ; but you take effectual steps 

at once to obtain the full amount, and see that you 

are never cheated again. Action from principle, the 

perception and the performance of right, changes things 

and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does 

not consist wholly with anything which was. It not 

only divides states and churches, it divides families ; ay, 

it divides the individual , separating the diabolical in him 

from the divine. 

^i— ^Unjust laws exist : shall we be content to obey them,l 

I or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them 

I until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at | 



32 Aiiti- Slavery and Reform Papers. 

once ? Men generally, under such a government as this, 
think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded 
the majority to alter them. They think that, if they 
should resist, the remedy would be worse than the. evil. 
But it is the fault of the government itself that the re- 
medy, IB worse than the evil. li makes it worse. Why 
IS it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform ? 
Why does it not cherish its wise minority ? Why does 
it cry and resist before it is hurt ? Why does it not 
encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out 
its faults and do better than it would have them ? 

/Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate 
Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and 
Franklin rebels ? 

One would think, that a deliberate and practical denial 
of its authority was the only offence never contemplated 
by government ; else, why has it not assigned its definite, 
its suitable and proportionate penalty ? If a man who 
has no property refuses but once to earn nine shillings 
for the State, he is put in prison for a period unlimited 

rby any law that I know, and determined only by the dis- 
cretion of those who placed him there ; but if he should 
steal ninety times nine shillings from the State, he is 
soon permitted to go at large again. \ 

If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the 
machine of government, let it go, let it go : perchance 
it will wear smooth, — certainly the machine will wear 
out. If the injustice has^a spring, or a pulley;' or a rope , 
or a crank, exclusively for its elf, then perhaps you ^aay" 
consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the 
evil ; but if itis-ofmich^ nature that it requires vou to 
be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say^Jiareak 



Civil Disobedience. 


jjVifl kw TiPf. your life bo a counter- friction to stop the 
tnaclhine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that 
I do not lend myself to ^the wrong which I condemn. 

As for adopting the ways which the State has provided 
for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They 
take too much time, and a man^s life will be gone. I have 
other affairs to attend to. / 1 came into th^^ world, no t 
chiefly to m al^e thi« a gftft(;( p%ffft to )iy^ in, huh to I^vfi in, 
it. be it ^ood or ba(^ . / A man has not ever y tbjn 
but somethinor ; and because he caniiot do ecervthing^ it 
is not ne cessarv tha t he should do something wrong. It 
is not my business to be petitioning the Governor or the 
Legislature any more than it is theirs to petition me; and 
if they should not hear my petition, what should I do 
then ? ^3ut in this case the State has provided no way : 
its very Constitution is the eviO This may seem to be 
harsh and stubborn and unconciliatory ; but it is to treat 
with the utmost kindness and consideration the only 
spirit that can appreciate or deserves it. So is all change 
for the better, like birth and death, which convulse the 

I do not hesitate to say, that those who call them- 
selves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw 
their support, both in person and property, from the 
government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they 
constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right 
to prevail through them. I think that it is enough if 
they have (God^n their side, Without waiting for that 
other one. Moreover, anv man more right than 
rhbors cons 

I meet tliis American government, or its representa- 
tive, the State government, directly, and face to face> 







Anti- Slavery and Reform Papers. 


once a year — no more — in the person of its tax-gatherer; 
this is the only mode in \vhich a man situated as 1 am 
necessarily meets it; and it then says distinctly, Recog- 
nize me; and the simplest, the most effectual, and, in 
the present posture of affairs, the indispensablest mode 
of treating with it on this head, of expressing your little 
satisfaction with and love for it, is to deny it then. My 
civil neighbor, the tax-gatherer, is the very man I have 
to deal with, — for it is, after all, with men and not with 
parchment that I quarrel, — and he has voluntarily 
chosen to be an agent of the government. How shall 
he ever know well what he is and does as an officer 
of the government, or as a man, until he is obliged to 
consider whether he shall treat me, his neighbor, for 
whom he has respect, as a neighbor and well-disposed 
man, or as a maniac and disturber of the peace, and see 
if he can get over this obstruction to his neighborliness 
without a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech 
corresponding with his action. .1 know this well, tha t 
tnd, if one hundred, if tea^jnen whom I could 





^le HONEST man. 
^atg^ of Massa chusetts, ceasing to hold' ^l^y^-'^j 

were actually to withdraw from t]^iR nnpartnftrs )iipp q ,nd 

Ihfi 1o^^^^ np in thft ff^ ^an ty jail therefor, i^ weuld be the 
abolition of slavery in Americ a. For it matters not how 
small the beginning may seem to be : what is once well 
done is done forever. But we love better to talk about 
it : that we say is our mission. Reform keeps mag: 
scor es of newspapers in its service, but not one mai 
If my esteemed neighbor," the State's ambassador, who 
will devote his days to the settlement of the question of 
human rights in the Council Chamber, instead of being 

Civil Disobedience. 


threateaed with the prisons of Carolina, were to sit down 
the prisoner of Massachusetts^ that State which is so 
anxious to foist the sin of slavery upon her sister, — 
though at present she can discover only an act of inhos- 
pitality to be the ground of a quarrel with her, — the 
Legislature would not wholly waive the subject the 
following winter. 

^ Under a pJ'OVernment which i mpri'sr^na ny^y ynjngfly^ 

the true place for a just man is also a prison. The 
proper place to-day, the only place which Massachusetts 
has provided for her freer ajiffl less desponding spirits, 
is in her prisons, to be piut out and locked out of the 
State by her own act, as'xhey have already put them- 
selves out by their principles. It is there that the 
fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and 
the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race, should 
find them ; on that separate, but more free and honorable 
ground, where the State places those who are not with 
her, but against her, — the only house in a slave State in 
which a free man can abide with honory ^f any thiiA 
that their influence would be lost thexe#.aad tfeerrTOttfes ' 

[Tct the ear of the ,^tafeg^Jiha± th^y Y(m\^ P^^- * 
be as an enemy witnin its walls, they do not know bjj -^ 

'- how t fitrefa t rn th" is stronger than error^ npjf. hsxw mwok* 
more^^^eK^uently and* efiectlvely he can combat injustio 
who has e xperie nced a little in his own person* Cas 
jour whole vo to, not a strip of paper merely, but you 
whole influ^ce. A nainority is powerless while it con 
forms to the majority ; it is not even a minority then 
but it is i rresistible when it clogs by its whole weighll. 

_If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison^ or 

rivei "P war »^^ niaxr^ry^ the'TJEEa" wxIT no't^eaitata 



• s 

36 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

which to choose.. If a thousand men were not to pay 
their tax-bills this year^ that would not be a violent and 
bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable 
the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. 
iTrhis is, in fact, the definition of a peaceful revolution, 
iif any such is possible. If the tax-gatherer, or any other 
public officer, asks me, as one has done, " But what shall 
I do ? '* my answer is, *' If you really wish to do any- 
thing, resign your office.'* When the subject has re- 
fused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, 
then the revolution is accomplished. But even suppose 
blood should flow,. Is there not a sort of blood shed 
when the co^s^ieace is wounded ? Through this wound 
a man's real manhood and immortality flow out, and he 
bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood flowing 

I have contemplated the imprisonment of the offender, 
rather than the seizure of his goods, — though both will 
serve the same purpose, — because they who assert the 
purest right, and consequently are most dangerous to a 
corrupt State, commonly have not spent much time in 
accumulating property. To such the State renders 
comparatively small service, and a slight tax is wont to 
appear exorbitant, particularly if they are obliged to 
earn it by special labor with their hands. If there 
were one who lived wholly without the use of money, the 
State itself would hesitate to demand it of him. But the 
rich man — not to make any invidious comparison — is 
always sold to the institution which makes him rich. 
Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue ; x 
for money comes between a man and his objects, and 
obtains them for him; and it was certainly no great 


Civil Disobedience, 37 

virtue to obtain it. It puts to rest many questions 
which he would otherwise be taxed to answer; while the 
only new question which it puts is the hard but super- 
fluous one^ how to spend it. Thus his moral ground is 
taken from under his feet. The opportunities of living 
are diminished in proportion as what are called the 
'' tfieans " are increased. The best thing a man can do 
for his culture when he is rich is to endeavor to carry outi 
those schemes which he entertained when he was poor.l 
Christ answered the Herodians according to their con- 
dition. "Show me the tribute-money/* said he; — and 
one took a penny out of his pocket ; — if you use money 
which has the image of Caesar on it, and which he has 
made current and valuable, that is, if you are men of the 
State, and gladly enjoy the advantages of CeBsar's 
government, then pay hina back some of his own when 
he demands it ; " Render therefore to Caesar that which 
is Caesar^s, and to God those things which are God's,'^— 
leaving them no wiser than before as to which was 
which ; for they did not wish to know. 

When I converse with the freest of my neighbors, I 
perceive that, whatever they may say about the magni- 
tude and seriousness of the question, and their regard 
for the public tranquillity, the long and the short of the 
matter is, that they cannot spare the protection of the 
existing government, and they dread the consequences 
to their property and families of disobedience to it. For 
my own part, I should not like to think that I ever 
rely on the protection of the State. But, if I deny the 
authority of the State when it presents its tax- bill, it will 
soon take and wast^ all my property, and so harass me 
and my children without end. This is hard. This 

38 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

makes it impossible for a man to live honestly, and at 
the same time comfortably, in outward respects. It will 
not be worth the while to accumulate property; that 
would be sure to go again. You must hire or squat 
somewhere, and raise but a small crop, and eat that 
soon. You must live within yourself, and depend upon 
yourself, always tucked up and ready for a start, and not 
have many affairs. A man may grow rich in Turkey 
even, if he will be in all respects a good subject of the 
Turkish government. Confucius said: ^*If a state is 
governed by the principles of reason, poverty and misery 
are subjects of shame; if a state is not governed by the 
I principles of reason, riches and honors are the subjects 
[of shame.'* No : until I want the protection of 
Massachusetts to be extended to me in some distant 
Southern port, where my liberty is endangered, or until 
I am bent solely on building up an estate at home by 
peaceful enterprise, I can afford to refuse allegiance to 
Massachusetts, and her right to my property and life. 
It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of 
disobedience to the State, than it would to obey. I 
should feel as if I were worth less in that case. 

Some years ago, the State met me in behalf of the 
Church, and commanded me to pay a certain sum toward 
the support of a clergyman whose preaching my father 
attended, but never I myself. ''Pay,*' it said, *'or be 
locked up in the jail.*' I declined to pay. But, unfor- 
tunately, another man saw fit to pay it. I did not see 
why the schoolmaster should be taxed to support the 
priest, and not the priest the schoolmaster; for I was 
not the State's schoolmaster, but I supported myself by 
voluntary subscription. I did not see why the lyceum 


Civil Disobedience, 39 

should not present its tax-bill, and have the State to 
back its demand, as well as the Church. However, at 
the request of the selectmen, I condescended to make 
some such statement as this in writing: — ^^Know all 
men by these presents, that I, Henry ITioreau, do not 
wish to be regarded as a member of any incorporated 
society which I have not joined/' This I gave to the 
town clerk; and he has it. The State, having thus 
learned that I did not wish to be regarded as a member 
of that Church, has never made a like demand on me 
since ; though it said that it must adhere to its original 
presumption that time. If I had known how to name 
them, I should then have signed off in detail from all the 
societies which I never signed on to ; but I did not 
know where to find a complete list. 

I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put into 
a jail once on this account, for one night; and; as I stood j 
considering the walls of solid stone, two or three feet I 
thick, the door of wood and iron, a foot thick, and the 
iron grating which strained the light, I could nofr help ! 
being struck with the foolishness of that institution 
which treated me as if I were mere flesh and blood and . 
bones, to be locked up. I wondered that it should have ' 
concluded at length that this was the best use it could 
put me to, and had never thought to avail itself of my 
services in some way. I saw that, if there was a wall 
of stone between me ^nd my townsmen, there was a still 
more diflScult one to climb or break through, before they 
could get to be as free as I was. I did not for a moment 
feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of 
stone and mortar. I felt as if I alone of all my towns- 
men had paid my tax. They plainly did not know how 

40 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

to treat me, but behaved like persons who are underbred. 
In every threat and in every compliment there was a 
bluuder; for they thought that my chief desire was to 
stand the other side of that stone wall. I could not but 
smile to see how industriously they locked the door on 
my meditations, which followed them out again without 
let or hindrance, and ihey were really all that was dan- 
gerous. As they could not reach me, they had resolved 
to punish my body \ just as boys, if they cannot come at y^ 
^ some person against whom they have a spite, will abuse 
his dog. I saw that the State was half-witted, that it 
- was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and % 
that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost 
all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it. 

Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man's 
senses, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his 
senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, , 
but with superior physical strength. I was not born to 
be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us 
g see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude ? 
x/ I They only can force me who obey a higher law than I. 
They force me to become like themselves. I do not hear 
of men being forced to live this way or that by masses of 
men. What sort of life were that to live? When I 
meet a government which says to me, '' Your money or 
your life,^^ why should I be in haste to give it my money? 
It may be in a great strait, and not know what to do : I 
cannot help that. It must help itself ; do as I do. It is 
not worth the while to snivel about it. I am not respon- 
sible for the successful working of the machinery of 
society. I am not the son of the engineer. I perceive 
that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, thet 


Civil Disobedience, 41 

one does not remain ioert to make way for the other^ bat 
both obey their own laws^ and spring and grow and 
flourish as best they can, till one, perchance, overshadows 
and destroys the other. If ^...pkyutuammLiiTesgccording 
to its nature, it dies ; and so a man. 

The night in prison was novel and interesting enough. 
The prisoners in their shirt-sleeves were enjoying a chat and 
the evening air in the doorway, when I entered. But the 
jailer said, " Come, boys, it is time to lock up ; " and so they 
dispersed, and I heard the sound of their steps returning 
into the hollow apartments. My room-mate was introduced 
to me by the jailer, as "a first-rate fellow and a clever man." 
When the door was locked, he showed me where to hang my 
hat, and how he managed matters there. The rooms were 
whitewashed once a month ; and this one, at least, was the 
whitest, most simply furnished, and probably the neatest 
apartment in the town. He naturally wanted to know 
where I came from, and what brought me there ; and, when 
I had told him, I asked him in my turn how he came there, 
presuming him to be an honest man, of course ; and, as the 
world goes, I believe he was. "Why,** said he, "they accuse 
me of burning a barn ; but I never did it.** As near as I 
could discover, he had probably gone to bed in a barn when 
drunk, and s^noked his pipe there ; and so a barn was burnt. 
He had the reputation of being a clever man, had been there 
some three months waiting for his trial to come on, and 
would have^ to wait as much longer ; but he was quite 
domesticated and contented, since he got his board for no- 
thing, and thought that he was well treated. 

He occupied one window, and I the other ; and I saw, that, 
if one stayed there long, his principal business would be to 
look out the window. I had soon read all the tracts that 
were left there, and examined where former prisoners had 
broken out, and where a grate had been sawed off, and heard 

42 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers. 

the history of the various occnpants of that room; for I 
found that even here there was a history and a gossip which 
never circulated beyond the walls of the jail. Probably this 
is the only house in the town where verses are composed, 
which are afterwards printed in a circular form, but not 
published. I was shown quite a long list of verses which 
were composed by some young men who had been detected 
in an attempt to escape, who avenged themselves by singing 

I pumped my fellow-prisoner as dry as I could, for fear I 
should never see him again; but at length he showed me 
which was my bed, and left me to blow out the lamp. 

It was like travelling into a far country, such as I had 
never expected to behold, to lie there for one night. It 
seemed to me that I never had heard the town-clock strike 
before, nor the evening sounds of the village ; for we slept 
with the windows open, which were inside the grating. It 
was to see my native village in the light of the Middle Ages, 
and our Concord was turned into a Rhine stream, and visions 
of knights and castles passed before me. They were the 
voices of old burghers that I heard in the streets. I was an 
involuntary spectator and auditor of whatever was done and 
said in the kitchen of the adjacent village-inn, — a wholly 
new and rare experience to me. It was a closer view of my 
native town. I was fairly inside of it. I ne^er had seen its 
institutions before. This is one of its peculiar institutions ; 
for it is a shire town. I began to comprehend what its in- 
habitants were about. 

In the morning, our breakfasts were put through the hole 
in the door, in small oblong-square tin pans, made to fit, and 
holding a pint of chocolate, with brown bread, and an iron 
spoon. When they called for the vessels again, I was green 
enough to return what bread I had left ; but my comrade 
seized it, and said that I should lay that up for lunch or dinner. 
Soon after he was let out to work at haying in a neighbonng 
field, whither he went every day, and would not be back till 

Civil Disobedience. 43 

noon ; so he bade me good-day, saying that he doubted if he 
should see me again. 

When I came out of prison, — for some one interfered, and 
paid that t^x, — I did not perceive that great changes had 
taken place on the common, such as he observed who went 
in a youth, and emerged a tottering and gray-headed man ; 
and yet a change had to my eyes come over the scene, — 
the town, andy State, and country, — greater than any that 
mere time could effect. I saw yet more distinctly the State 
in which I lived. I saw to what extent the people among 
whom I lived could be trusted as good neighbors and friends; 
that their friendship was for summer weather only; that 
they did not greatly propose to do right ; that they were a 
distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions, 
as the Chinamen and Malays are; that, in their sacrifices to 
humanity, they ran no risks, not even to their property; 
that after all, they were not so noble but they treated the 
thief as he had treated them, and hoped, by a certain out- 
ward observance and a few prayers, and by walking in 
a particular straight though useless path from time to time, 
to save their souls. This may be to judge my neighbors 
harshly; for I believe that many of them are not aware 
that they have such an institution as the jail in their vil- 

It was formerly the custom in our village, when a poor 
debtor came out of jail, for his acquaintances to salute him, 
looking through their fingers, which were crossed to repre- 
sent the grating of a jail window, " How do ye do ? " My 
neighbors did not thus salute me, but first looked at me, and 
then at one another, as I if had returned from a long journey, 
I was put into jail as I was going to the shoemaker's to get 
a shoe which was mended. When I was let out the next 
morning, I proceeded to finish my errand, and having put 
on my mended shoe, joined a huckleberry party, who were 
impatient to put themselves under my conduct ; and in half 
an hour, — for the horse was soon tackled, — was in the midst 



44 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers. 

of a hackleberry field, on one of our highest hills, two miles 
off, and then the State was nowhere to be seen. 
This is the whole history of " My Prisons.** 

I have never declined paying the highway tax, be- 
; cause I am as desirous of being a good x^ghfeiir as I am 
5j/ of being a bad sul^^ 3 ^^^> *s for supporting schools, I 
am doing my part to educate my fellow-cQuntrymen now. 
It is for no particular item in the tax-bill that I refuseJ^o 
pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the^Stste, y 
to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not 
care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it / 
buys a man or a musket to shoot bne with, — the dollar is 
iimocent,^ — but I am concerned to trace the effects of my 
aHegianpe. In fact, I quietly^declarfi-war, with the^ate, I 
after my fashion, though I will still make what use and 
get what advantage of her I can, as is usual in such 

If others pay the tax which is demanded of me, from a 
sympathy with the State, they do but what they have 
already done in their own case, or rather they abet in- 
justice to a greater extent than the State requires. If 
they pay the tax from a mistaken interest in the indivi- 
dual taxed, to save his property, or prevent his going to 
jail, it is because they have not considered wisely how far 
they let their private feelings interfere with the public 

This, then, is my position at present. But one cannot 
. be too much on bis guard in such a case, lest his action 
Ibe biassed by obstinacy, or an undue regard for the 
<Y) pinions of men. Let him see that he does only what 



belongs to himself and to the hour. 


Civil Disobedience, 45 




I think sometimes. Why, this people mean well ; they 
are only ignorant; they would do better if they knew 
how : why give your neighbors this pain to treat you as 
they are not inclined to ? But I think again. This is no 
reason why I should do as they do, or permit others to 
suflfer much greater pain of a different kind. Again, I 
sometimes say to myself, When many millions of men, y 

without heat, without ill-will, without personal feeling y^^ 
of any kind, demand of you a few shillings only without 
the possibility, such is their constitution, of retracting or 
altering their present demand, and without the possi- 
bility, on your side, of appeal to any other millions, why 
expose yourself to this overwhelming brute force ? You 
do not resist cold and hunger, the winds and the waves, 
thus obstinately; you quietly submit to a thousand 
similar necessities. You do not put your head into the 
fire. But just in proportion as I regard this as not , 
wholly a brute force, but partly a human force, and con- 
sider that I have relations to those millions as to so many 
millions of men, and not of mere brute or inanimate 
things, I see that appeal is possible, first and instan- 
taneously, from them to the Maker of them, and, 
secondly, from them to themselves. But, if I put my 
head deliberately into the fire, there is no appeal to fire 
or to the Maker of fire, and I have only myself to blame. 
If I could convince myself that I have any right to be^ 
satisfied with men as they are, and to treat them accord- 
ingly, and not according, in some respects, to my re-f - 
quisitions and expectations of what they and I ought to 
be, then, like a good Mussulman and fatalist, I should 
endeavor to be satisfied with things as they are, and say 
it is the will of God, And, above all, there is this 

46 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

diflference between resisting this and a purely brute or 
natural force, that I can resist this with some effect ; but 
I cannot expect, like Orpheus, to change the nature of the 
rocks and trees and beasts. 

1 do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation. I 
do not wish to split hairs, to make fine distinctions, or 
set myself up as better than my neighbors. I seek 
rather, I may say^ven an excuse for conforming to the 
laws of the landy' I am but too ready to conform to 
Hhem. Indeed, I have reason to suspect myself on this 
head ; and each year, as the tax-gatherer comes round, I ^ 
find myself disposed to review the acts and position of 
the general and State governments, and the spirit of the 
people, to discover a pretext for conformity. 

" "We must affect our country as our parents, 
And if at any time we alienate 
Our love or industry from doing it honor, 
We must respect effects and teach the soul 
Matter of conscience and religion. 
And not desire of rule or benefit." 

I believe that the State will soon be able to take all my 
work of this sort out of my hands, and then I shall be 
no better a patriot than my fellow-countrygnen. Seen 
from a lower point of view, the Constitution, with all its 
faults, is very good ; the law and the courts are very 
respectable ; even this State and this American govern- 
ment are, in many respects, very admirable and rare 
things, to be thankful for, such as a great many have 
described them ; but seen from a point of view a little 
higher, they are what I have described them ; seen from 
a higher still, and the highest, who shall say what they 

sincerely l 'Ail; bhem ; bub all their wit and usefulness 
lie withia certaiu not very wide limits. They are wont 
to forget that the world is not governed by policy aud 
expediency. Webster never goes behind government, 
and so cannot speak with authority about it. His word^ 
are wisdom to those legislators who contemplate no 
^essential reform in the existing government; but for 
thinkers, and those who legislate for all time, he never 
onoe glances at the subject. I know of those whose 
serene and wise speculations on this theme would soon 
reveal the limits of his mind's range and hospitality. 
Xet, compared with the cheap professions of most re- 
formers, and the still cheaper wisdom and eloquence of / 
politicians in general, his are almost the only sensible 

48 AntuSlavery and Reform Papers, 

and valuable words, and we thank Heave n fo r him. 
Comparatively^ he is always strong, ons^inal, and, ^bove 

^ ^ aftT'practical. Still his j^imlit^y 1° ^^*^ Tvi^^H^^m, fr" t pra- 
lenoe . l^be lawyer's truth is not Truth, but consistency, 
or a consistent expediency, '■^^''itfh ^ fl-lwayft it^ ^ytrryinny 
^IT^h hrnrlfi nn^ i^ not ^ftn^^^TP^^ rhinfly ho rnrfnl thn 
justi ce that may consist with wroy^g -^^'ng He well 
reserves to be called, as he has been called, the Defender 
of the OonHtitutiojl. There are really ho blows to be 
given by hrm"T)ut defensive ones. He is not a leader, ' 
bat a follower. His leaders are the men of ^87. *'I 
have never made an effort/' he says, '^ and never pro- 
pose to make an effort ; I have never countenanced an 
effort, and never mean to countenance an effort, to dis- 
turb the arrangement as originally made, by which the 
A^arious States came into the Union." Still thinking of 
/ the sanction which the Constitution gives to slavery, he 
I says, ^' Because it was a part of the original compact, — / 
Met it stand." Notwithstanding his special acuteness and 
ability, he is unable to take a fact out of its merely 
political relations, and behold it as it lies absolutely to 
be disposed of by the intellect, — what, for instance, it 
behooves a man to do here in America to-day with regard 
to slavery, but ventures, or is driven, to make some such 
desperate ^inswer as the following, while professing to 
speak absolutely, and as a private man, — from which 
what new and singular code of social duties might be 
inferred? '^The manner," says he, "in which the 
governments of those States where slavery exists are to 
regulate it, is for their own consideration, under their 
responsibility to their constituents, to the general laws 
of propriety, humanity, and justice, and to God. Associ- 



Civil Disobedience. 49 

ations formed elsewhere, springing from a feeling of 
humanity, or any other cause, have nothing whatever to 
do with it. They have never received any encourage- 
ment from me, and they never will/' 

They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have 
traced up its stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand, 
by the Bible and the Constitution, and drink at it there 
with reverence and humility ; but they who behold where 
it comes trickling into this lake or that pool, gird up 
their loins once more, and continue their pilgrimage 
toward its fountain-head. 

No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in 
America, They are rare in the history of the world. 
There are orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the 
thousand ; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth 
to speak, who is capable of settling the much-vexed 
questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own 
sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any 
heroism it may inspire. Our legislators have not yet 
learned the comparative value of free-trade and of free- 
dom, of union, and of rectitude, to a nation. They have 
no genius or talent for comparatively humble questions 
of taxation and finance, commerce and manufactures and 
agriculture. If we were left solely to the wordy wit of 
legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by 
the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of 
the people, America would not long retain hjsr rank 
among the nations. JEor eip^hteen hundred vearsl thoup^h 
perchance I have no right to say it, the New^T fii^^^^^^riJf- 
pts been wri tten ; yet where is the legis lator who has 

■«rjc^|^py^ onri pi»or*fi'o^] .jj^/^pl-^ ^^.^»^h |jri a yail hJtnS filfc'Of 

th gjight which it sheds on the science of^l egislation ? 


Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 

ThfiT authority of government, ;even such as I am wil- 
ling \/o submit to, — for I will cheerfully obey those who 
know and can do better than I, and in many things even 
those who neither know nor can do so well, — ^is still an 
impure one : to be strictly just, it must have the sanction 
and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right 
over my person and property but what I concede to it. 
The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy,* 
from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress 
toward a true respect for the individual. Even the 
Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the 
individual as the basis of the empire. Is a democracy, 
such as we know it, the last improvement possible in 
government ? Is it not possible to take a step further 
towards recognizing^ and orp ^anizin^ the rightsflLjaan^J 
There will never be a really free and enlightened State, 
until the State comes to recognize the individual as a 
higher and independent power, from which all its own 
power o^^ ^pfiir^^f,jr oT» ^ derived^ and treats him accords 
inglyjl please myself with imagining a State at last 
•which can afford to be just to all^mep, and to treat the 
individual with respect as a n^ighbop'; which even would 
not think it inconsistent witlT-tts own repose, if a few 
were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor 
embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of ngigttBbrs 
end feMo^M^en. A State which bore this kind^bf-^ruit, 
and suflfei^ed' it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would 
prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious 
State, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere 


I TBU8T that you will pardon me for being here. I 
do not wish to force my thoughts upon you, but I feel 
forced myself. Little as I know of Captain Brown, 
I would fain do my part to correct the tone and the 
statements of the newspapers, and of my cogntfymen^ 
generally, respecting his character and actions.^ It costs 
Lothing to be just. We can at least express our sym- 
pathy with, and admiration of, him and his companions, I 
and that is what I now propose to do. * 

First, as to his history. I will endeavor to omit, as 
much as possible, what you have already read. I need 
not describe his person to you, for probably most of you 
have seen and will not soon forget him. I am told that^ 
his grandfather, John Brown, was an officer in the Revo- > 
lotion ; that he himself was born in Connecticut about 
the beginning of this century, but early went with his 
father to Ohio. I heard him say that his father was a 
contractor, who furnished beef to the army there, in the 
war of 1812 ; that he accompanied him to the camp, and 
assisted him in that employment, seeing a good deal of 
military life, — more, perhaps, than if he had been a soldier; 

* Bead to the citizens of Concord, Mass., Sunday Evening, 
October 30, 1859. Published in Echoes from Harpm-^s Fen^y, 
Boston, 1860. 


52 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

for lie was often present at the councils of the officers. 
Especially, he learned by experience how armies are 
supplied and maintained in the field, — a work which, he 
observed, requires at least as much experience and skill 
as to lead them in battle. He said that few persons had 
any conception of the cost, even the pecuniary cost, of 
firing a single bullet in war. He saw enough, at any 
rate, to disgust him with a military life ; indeed, to excite 
in him a great abhorrence of it ; so much so, that though 
he was tempted by the oflfer of some petty office in the 
army, when he was about eighteen, he not only declined 
that, but he also refused to train when warned, and was 
fined for it. He then resolved that he would never have 
anything to do with any war, unless it were a war for 

When the troubles in Kansas began, he sent several 
of his sons thither to strengthen the party of the Free 
State men, fitting them out with such weapons as he had ; 
telling them that if the troubles should increase, and there 
should be need of him, he would follow, to assist them 
with his hand and counsel. This, as you all know, he 
soon after did ; and it was through his agency, far more 
than any other's, that Kansas was made free. 

For a part of his life he was a surveyor, and at one time 
he was engaged in wool-growing, and he went to Europe 
as an agent about that business. There, as everywhere, 
he had his eyes about him, and made many original ob- 
servatioiFs. He said, for instance, that he saw why the 
soil of England was so rich, and that of Germany (I think 
it was) so poor, and he thought of writing to some of the 
crowned heads about it. It was because in England the 
peasantry live on the soil which they cultivate, but in 


A Plea for Captain John Brown. 53 

Germany they are gathered into villages at night. It is 
a pity that he did not make a book of his observations. 

I should say that he was an old-fashioned man in his^ ^]«^ 
respect for the Constitution, and his faith in the perma-' 
nence of this Union. Slavery he deemed to be wholly 
opposed to these, and he was its determined foe. 

He was by descent and birth a New England farmer, 
a man of great common-sense^ deliberate and practical 
as that class is, and tenfold more so. He was like the 
best of those who stood at Concord Bridge once, on 
Lexington Common, and on Banker Hill, only he was 
firmer and higher principled than any that I have chanced 
to hear of as there. It was no abolition lecturer that 
converted him. Ethan Allen and Stark, with whom he 
may in some respects be compared, were rangers in a 
lower and less important field. They could bravely face 
their country's foes, but he had the courage to face his 
country herself, when she was in the wrong. A West- 
ern writer says, to account for his escape from so many 
perils, that he was concealed under a "rural exterior'^; 
as if, in that prairie land, a hero should, by good rights, 
wear a citizen's dress only. 

He did not go to the college called Harvard, good old 
Alma Mater as she is. He was not fed on the pap that 
is there furnished. As he phrased it, " I know no more 
of grammar than one of your calves.'' But he went to . 
the great university of the West, where he sedulously 
pursued the study of Liberty, for which he had early 
betrayed a fondness, and having taken many degrees, hey 
finally commenced the public practice of Humanity in 1 
Xansas, as you all know. Such were Mb humanities and - 
not any study of grHmmar. He would have left a Greek 

54 AntuSlavery and Reform Papers, 

accent slanting the wrong way^ and righted up a falling 

' man. 

I He was one of that class of whom we hear a great deal, 
but, for the most part, see nothing at all, — the Puritans. 
It would be in vain to kill him. He died lately in the 
time of Cromwell, but he reappeared here. Why should 
he not? Some of the Puritan stock are said to have 
come over and settled in New England. They were a 
class that did something else than celebrate their fore- 
fathers* day, and eat parched corn in remembrance of 
that time. They were neither Democrats nor Republicans, 
but men of simple habits, straightforward, prayerful ; not 
thinking much of rulers who did not fear God, not mak- 
ing many compromises, nor seeking after available can- 

" In his camp,*' as one has recently written, and as I 
have myself heard him state, " he permitted no profanity ; 
no man of loose morals was suffered to remain there, 
unless, indeed, as a prisoner of war. ' I would rather,' 
said he, * have the small-pox, yellow-fever, and cholera, 
^. ,»goW ta «yc,.p/«..L' ma. -ith'o.t prkcipU. 
. . . It is a mistake, sir, that our people make, when 
they think that bullies are the best fighters, or that 
they are the fit men to oppose these Southerners. Give 
me men of good principles, — God-fearing men, — men 
who respect themselves, and with a dozen of them I will 
oppose any hundred such men as these Buford ruffians.' '' , 
He said that if one offered himself to be a soldier under 
him, who was forward to tell what he could or would do, 
if he could only get sight of the enemy, he had but little 
confidence in him. 

He was never able to find more than a score or so of 


A Plea for Captain John Brown. 55 

recruits whom he would accept;, and only about a dozen, 
among them his sons, in whom he had perfect faith. 
When he was here, some years ago, he showed to a few 
a little manuscript book, — his '* orderly book'' I think 
he called it, — containing the names of his company in 
Kansas, and the rules by which they bound themselves ; 
and he stated that several of them had already sealed the 
contract with their blood. When some one remarked 
that, with the addition of a chaplain, it would have been 
a perfect Cromwellian troop, he observed that he would 
have been glad to add a chaplain to the list, if he could 
have found one who could fill that office worthily. It is 
easy enough to find one for the United States army. I 
believe that he had prayers in his camp morning and 
evening, nevertheless. 

He was a man of Spartan habits, and at sixty was 
scrupulous about his diet at your table, excusing himself 
by saying that he must eat sparingly and fare hard, as 
became a soldier, or one who was fitting himself for 
difficult enterprises, a life of exposure. 

A man of rare common-sense and directness of speech, 
as of action ; a transcendentalist above all, a man of ideas 
and principles, — that was what distinguished him. Not 
yielding to a whim or transient impulse, but carrying out 
the purpose of a life. I noticed that he did not overstate 
anything, but spoke within bounds. I remember, par- 
ticularly, how, in his speech here, he referred to what his 
family had suffered in Kansas, without ever giving the 
least vent to his pent-up fire. It was a volcano with an 
ordinary chimney-flue. Also referring to the deeds of 
certain Border Ruffians, he said, rapidly paring away his 
speech, like an experienced soldier, keeping a reserve 

56 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

of force and meaniDg, '^ They had a perfect right to be 
huDg/' He was not in the least a rhetorician^ was not 
talking to Buncombe or his constituents anywhere^ had 
no need to invent anything but to tell the simple truths 
and communicate his own resolution; therefore he ap- 
peared incomparably strong, and eloquence in Congress 
and elsewhere seemed to me at a discount. It was like 
'the speeches of Cromwell compared with those of an 
ordinary king. 

As for his tact and prudence, I will merely say, that 
at a time when scarcely a man from the Free States was 
able to reach Kansas by any direct route, at least without 
having his arms taken from him, he, carrying what im- 
perfect guns and other weapons he could collect, openly 
and slowly drove an ox-cart through Missouri, apparently 
in the capacity of a surveyor, with his surveying compass 
exposed in it, and so passed unsuspected, and had ample 
opportunity to learn the designs of the enemy. For some 
time after his arrival he still followed the same profession. 
When, for instance, he saw a knot of the ruffians on the 
prairie, discussing, of course, the single topic which then 
occupied their minds, he would, perhaps, take his com- 
pass and one of his sons, and proceed to run an imaginary 
line right through the very spot on which that conclave 
had assembled, and when he came up to them, he would 
naturally pause and have some talk with them, learning 
their views, and, at last, all their plans perfectly ; and 
having thus completed his real survey, he would resume 
his imaginary one, and run on his line till he was out of 

When I expressed surprise that he could live in Kansas 
at all, with a price set upon his head, and so large a num- 

A Plea for Captain John Brown. 57 

ber^ including the authorities^ exasperated against him^ 
he accounted for it by saying, '^ It is perfectly well under- 
stood that I will not be taken.^^ Much of the time for 
some years he has had to skulk in swamps, suffering from 
poverty and from sickness, which was the consequence 
of exposure, befriended only by Indians and a few whites. 
But though it might be known that he was lurking in a 
particular swamp, his foes commonly did not care to go 
in after him. He could even come out into a town where 
there were more Border Ruffians than Free State men, 
and transact some business, without delaying long, and 
yet not be molested ; for, said he, '* No little handful of 
men were willing to undertake it, and a large body could 
not be got together in season." 

As for his recent failure, we do not know the facts 
about it. It was evidently far from being a wild and 
desperate attempt. His enemy, Mr. Vallandigham, is 
compelled to say, that " it was among the best planned 
and executed conspiracies that ever failed." 

Not to mention his other successes, was it a failure, 
or did it show a want of good management, to deliver 
from bondage a dozen human beings, and walk off with 
them by broad daylight, for weeks if not months, at a 
leisurely pace, through one State after another, for half 
the length of the North, conspicuous to all parties, with 
a price set upon his head, going into a court-room on his 
way and telling what he had done, thus convincing 
Missouri that it was not profitable to try to hold slaves 
in his neighbourhood ? — and this, not because the govern- 
ment menials were lenient, but because they were afraid 
of him. 

Yet he did not attribute his success, foolishly, to '^ his 

5 8 Anti- Slavery and Reform Papers. 

star,*' or to any magic. He said, truly, that the reason 
why such greatly superior numbers quailed before him 
was, as one of his prisoners confessed, because they lacked 
a cause, — a kind of armor which he and his party never 
lacked. When the time came, few men were found 
willing to lay down their lives in defence of what they 
knew to be wrong ; they did not like that this should be 
their last act in this world. 

But to make haste to his last act, and its effects. 

The newspapers seem to ignore, or perhaps are really 
iguorant of the fact, that there are at least as many as 
two or three individuals to a town throughout the North 
who think much as the present speaker does about him 
and his enterprise. I do not hesitate to say that they are 
an important and growing party. We aspire to be some- 
thing more than stupid and timid chattels, pretending to 
read history and our Bibles, but desecrating every house 
and every day we breathe in. Perhaps anxious politicians 
may prove that only seventeen white men and five negroes 
were concerned in the late enterprise; but their very 
anxiety to prove this might suggest to themselves that 
all is not told. Why do they still dodge the truth ? 
They are so anxious because of a dim consciousness of 
the fact, which they do not distinctly face, that at least a 
million of the free inhabitants of the United States would 
have rejoiced if it had succeeded. They at most only 
criticise the tactics. Though we wear no crape, the 
thought of that man's position and probable fate is 
spoiling many a man's day here at the North for other 
thinking. If any one who has seen him here can pursue 
successfully any other train of thought, I do not know 
'what he is made of. If there is any such who gets his 

A Plea for Captain John Brown, 59 

usual allowance of sleep, I will warrant him to fatten 
easily under any circumstances which do not touch his 
body or purse. I put a piece of paper and a pencil under ' 
my pillow, and when I could not sleep, I wrote in the ' 

On the whole, my respect for my fellow-men, except 
as one may outweigh a million, is not being increased 
these days, I have noticed the cold-blooded way in 
which newspaper writers and men generally speak of 
this event, as if an ordinary malefactor, though one of 
unusual *^ pluck'* — as the Governor of Virginia is re- 
ported to have said, using the language of the cock-pit, 
" the gamest man he ever saw '' — had been caught, and 
were about to be hung. He was not dreaming of his 
foes when the governor thought he looked so brave. It 
turns what sweetness I have to gall to hear, or hear of, 
the remarks of some of my neighbors. When we heard 
at first that he was dead, one of my townsmen observed ' 
that " he died as the fool dieth " ; which, pardon me,l •, 
for an instant suggested a likeness in him dying tol ^ 
my neighbor living. Others, craven-hearted, said dis- 1 
paragingly, that ''he threw his life away,*' because he 
^resisted the government. Which way have they thrown 
\their lives, pray ? — such as would praise a man for attack- ' 
Kng singly an ordinary band of thieves or murderers. I 
/hear another ask, Yankee-like, " What will he gain by 
' it ? *' as if he expected to fill his pockets by this enter- 
prise. Such a one has no idea of gain but in this worldly 
sense. If it does not lead to a " surprise *' party, if he 
. does not get a new pair of boots, or a vote of thanks, it 
/ must be a failure. " But he won't gain anything by it." 
Well, no, I don't suppose he could get four-and- sixpence 



Anti'Slavery and Reform Papers. 


a day for bjaing hang, take the year round ; but then he 
stands a chance to save a considerable part of his soul — 
and such a soul ! — when you do not. No doubt you can 
get more in your market for a quart of milk than for a 
quart of blood ; but that is not the market that heroes 
carry their blood to. 

Such do not know that like the seed is the fruit, and 
that, in the moral world, when good seed is planted, 
good fruit is inevitable, and does not depend on our 
watering and cultivating ; that when you plant, or bury, 
a hero in his field, a crop of heroes is sure to spring up. 
This is a seed of such force and vitality that it does not 
ask our leave to germinate. 

The momentary charge at Balaclava, in obedience to a 
blundering command, proving what a perfect machine 
the soldier is, has, properly enough, been celebrated by a 
poet laureate; but the steady, and for the most part 
successful, charge of this man, for some years, against 
the legions of slavery, in obedience to an infinitely 
higher command, is as much more memorable than that 
as an intelligent and conscientious man is superior to a 
machine. Do you think that will go unsung ? 

*' Served him right," — " A dangerous man,^^ — '^ He is 
undoubtedly insane.'' So they proceed to live their sane, 
and wise, and altogether admirable lives, reading their 
Plutarch a little, but chiefly pausing at that feat of Put- 
nam, who was let down into a wolPs den ; and in this 
wise they nourish themselves for brave and patriotic 
deeds some time or other. The Tract Society could 
afford to print that story of Putnam. You might open 
the district schools with the reading of it, for there ia 
nothing about Slavery or the Church in it; unless it 

A Plea for Captain John Brown. 6i 

occurs to the reader that some pastors are wolves in 
sheep's clothing. *'The American Board of Com- 
missioners for foreign Missions*' even, might dare to 
protest against that wolf. I have heard of boards, and 
of American boards, but it chances that I never heard of 
this particular lumber till lately. And yet I hear of 
Northern men, and women, and children, by families, 
buying a '* life-membership " in such societies as these, i 
A life-membership in the grave ! You can get buried 
cheaper than that. 

Oar foes are in our midst and all about us. There is 
hardly a house but is divided against itself, for our foe 
is the all but universal woodenness of both head and 
heart, the want of vitality in man, which is the efEect of 
our vice; and hence are begotten fear, superstition, 
bigotry, persecution, and slavery of all kinds. We are 
mere figure-heads upon a halk, with livers in the place 
of hearts. The curse is the worship of idols, which at ' 
length changes the worshipper into a stone image him- 
self ; and the New-Englander is just as much an idolater 
as the Hindoo. This man was an exception, for he did 
not set up even a political graven image between him 
and his God. 

A Church that can never have done with excommuni- 
cating Christ while it exists ! Away with your broad 
and flat churches, and your narrow and tall churches ! 
Take a step forward, and invent a new style of out- 
houses. Invent a salt that will save you, and defend our 

The modem Christian is a man who has consented to 
say all the prayers in the liturgy, provided you will let 
him go straight to bed and sleep quietly afterward. All 


Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 


' his prayers begin with *' Now I lay me down to sleep/' 
and he is forever looking forward to the time when he 
shall go to his " long rest/' He has consented to per- 
form certain old-established charities^ too^ after a fashion, 
but he does not wish to hear of any new-fangled ones ; 
he doesn't wish to have any supplementary articles added 
to the contract, to fit it to the present time. He shows 
the whites of his eyes on the Sabbath, and the blacks all 
the rest of the week. The evil is not merely a stagna- 
tion of blood, but a stagnation of spirit. Many, no 
doubt, are well disposed, but sluggish by constitution 
and by habit, and they cannot conceive of a man who is 
actuated by higher motives than they are. Accordingly 
they pronounce this man insane, for they know that they 
could never act as he does, as long as they are themselves. 
We dream of foreign countries, of other times and 
races of men, placing them at a distance in history or 
space; but let some significant event like the present 
occur in our midst, and we discover, often, this distance 
and this strangeness between us and our nearest neigh- 
bors. They are our Austrias, and Chinas, and Soath 
Sea Islands. Our crowded society becomes well spaced 
all at once, clean and handsome to the eye — a city of 
magnificent distances. We discover why it was that we 
never got beyond compliments and surfaces with them 
before ; we become aware of as many versts between us 
and them as there are between a wandering Tartar and a 
Chinese town. The thoughtful man becomes a hermit in 
the thoroughfares of the market-place. Impassable seas 
suddenly find their level between us, or dumb steppes 
stretch themselves out there. It is the difference of 
constitution, of intelligence^ and faith, and not streams 

A Plea for Captain John Brown, 63 

and mountains^ tliat make the trae and impassable 
boundaries between individuals and between states. 
None but the like-minded can come plenipotentiary to 
our court. 

I read all the newspapers I could get within a week 
after this event, and I do not remember in them a single 
expression of sympathy for these men. I have since seen 
one noble statement, in a Boston paper, not editorial. 
Some voluminous sheets decided not to print the full 
report of Brown's words to the exclusion of other matter. \ 
It was as if a publisher should reject the manuscript of 
the New Testament, and print Wilson's last speech. 
The same journal which contained this pregnant news,' 
was chiefly filled, in parallel columns, with the reports 
of the political conventions that were being held. But 
the descent to them was too steep. They should have 
been spared this contrast — been printed in an extra, at V 
least. To turn from the voices and deeds of earnest! 
men to the cackling of political conventions! Office- 1 
seekers and speech- makers, who do not so much as lay 
an honest egg, but wear their breasts bare upon an egg 
of chalk ! Their great game is the game of straws, or 
rather that universal aboriginal game of the platter, at 
which the Indians cried hub, bub ! Exclude the reports < 
of religious and political conventions, and publish the 
words of a living man. 

But I object not so much to what they have omitted, 
as to what they have inserted. Even the Liberator 
called it "a misguided, wild, and apparently insane — 
effort.'' , As for the herd of newspapers and magazines, 
I do not chance to know an editor in the country who 
Will d^lioerately print anything which he knows will 


64 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

njltimately and permanently reduce the number of his 
\ subscribers. They do not believe that it would be ex- 
N^ Ipedient. How then can they print truth ? If we do 
pot say pleasant things, they argue^ nobody will attend 
TO us. And so they do like some travelling auctioneers, 
who sing an obscene song, in order to d raw a crowd 
around them. Eepublican editors, obliged to get their 
sentences ready for the morning edition, and accustomed 
to look at everything by the twilight of politics, express 
no admiration, nor true sorrow even, but call these men 
" deluded fanatics,** '* mistaken men,*' *' insane,'* or 
"crazed." It suggests what a sane set of editors we 
are blessed with, not *^ mistaken men ** ; who know very 
well on which side their bread is buttered, at least. 

A man does a brave and humane deed, and at once, 
on all sides, we hear people and parties declaring, "I 
didn't do it, nor countenance him, to do it, in any con- 
ceivable way. It can't be fairly inferred from my past 
career.'* I, for one, am not interested to hear you define 
your position. I don't know that I ever was or ever 
shall be. I think it is mere egotism, or impertinent at 
this time. Ye needn't take so much pains to wash your 
skirts of him. No intelligent man will ever be convinced 
that he was any creature of yours. He went and came, 
as he himself informs us, " under the auspices of John 
Brown and nobody else." The Republican party does 
not perceive how many his failure will make to vote 
more correctly than they would have them. They have 
counted the votes of Pennsylvania & Co., but they have 
not correctly counted Captain Brown's vote. He has 
taken the wind out of their sails — the little wind they 
had — and they may as well lie to and repair. 


A Plea for Captain John Brown, 65 

What though he did not belong to your clique ^ 
Though you may not approve of his method or his prin- 
ciples, recognize his magnanimity. Would you not like 
to claim kindredship with him in that, though in no 
other thing he is like, or likely, to you? Do you think 
that you would lose your reputation so ? What you lost 
at the spile, you would gain at the bung. 

If they do not mean all this, then they do not speak 
the truth, and say what they mean. They are simply at 
their old tricks still. 

" It was always conceded to him,*' sax^s one who calls 
him crazy, "that he was a conscientious man, very 
modest in his demeanor, apparently inoffensive, until 
the subject of Slavery was introduced, when he would 
exhibit a feeling of indignation unparalleled.'' 

The slave-ship is on her way, crowded with its dying 
victims; new cargoes are being added in mid-ocean, a 
small crew of slaveholders, countenanced by a large body 
of passengers, is smothering four -millions under the 
hatches, and yet the politician asserts that the only 
proper way by which deliverance is to be obtained, is by 
*' the quiet diffusion of the sentiments of humanity," 
without any " outbreak.'' As if the sentiments of hu- 
manity were ever found unaccompanied by its deeds, and 
you could disperse them, all finished to order, the pure 
article, as easily as water with a watering-pot, and so lay 
the dust. What is that that I hear cast overboard? 
The bodies of the dead that have found deliverance. 
That is the way we are " difiFusing " humanity, and its 
sentiments with it. 

Prominent and influential editors, accustomed to deal 
with politicians, men of an infinitely lower grade, say, in 



66 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 

their ignorance, that he acted ^^on the principle of 
revenge/^ They do not know the man. They must 
enlarge themselves to conceive of him. I have no doubt 
that the time will come when they will begin to see him 
as he was. They have got to conceive of a man of faith 
and of religious principle, and not a politician or an 
. Indian ; of a man who did not wait till he was personally 
interfered with, or thwarted in somo harmless business 
before he gave his life to the cause of the oppressed. 

If Walker may be considered the representative of the 
South, I wish I could say that Brown was the represents 
ative of the North. He was a superior man. He did 
not value his bodily life in comparison with ideal things. 
He did not recognize unjust human' laws, but resisted 
them as he was bid. For once we are lifted out of the 
trivialness and dust of politics into the region of truth 
and manhood. No man in America has ever stood up 
so persistently and effectively for the dignity of human , 
._nature, knowing himself for a man, and the equal of any ^ 
and all governments. In that sense he was the most 
j American of us all. He needed no babbling lawyer, 
^ \making false issues, to defend him. He was more than 
^a match for all the judges that American voters, or 
office-holders of whatever grade, can create. He could 
/ not have been tried by a jury of his peers, because his \ 
peers did not exist. When a man stands up serenely 
against the condemnation and vengeance of mankind^ ^ 
rising above them literally fci/ a whole body, — evea 
I though he were of late the vilest murderer, who has 
I settled that matter with himself, — the spectacle is <^a 
; sublime one, — didn't ye know it, ye Liberators, ye 
j Tribunes, ye Bepublieans ? — and we become crinainal in 

A Plea for Captain John Brown, 6y 

comparison. Do yourselves the honor to recognize him. 
He needs none of your respect. 

As for the Democratic journals, they are not human 
enough to affect me at all. I do not feel indignation at 
anything they may say. 

I am aware that I anticipate a little, — that be was still, 
at the last accounts, alive in the hands of his foes ; but 
that being the case, I have all along found myself think- 
ing and speaking of him as physically dead. 

I do not believe in erecting statues to those who still 
live in our hearts, whose bones have not yet crumbled in 
the earth around us, but I would rather see the statue of i \ 
J Captain Brown in the Massachusetts State- House yard, I \^ 
than that of any other man whom I know. I rejoice 
that I live in this age, that I am his contemporary. 

What a contrast, when we turn to that political party 
which is so anxiously shuflSing him and his plot out of 
its way, and looking around for some available slave- 
holder, perhaps, to be its candidate, at least for one who 
will execute the Fugitive Slave Law, and all those other 
unjust laws which he took up arms to annul ! 

Insane ! A father and six sons, and one son-in-law, 
and several more men besides, — as many at least as ^ k 
twelve disciples, — all struck with insanity at once ; while r> 
the same tyrant holds with a firmer gripe than ever his <^ , 
four millions of slaves, and a thousand sane editors, his 
abettors, are saving their country and their bacon ! Just 
as insane were his efforts in Kansas. Ask the tyrant 
who is his most dangerous foe, the sane man or the 
insane? Do the thousands who know him best, who 
have rejoiced at his deeds in Kansas, and have afforded 
him material aid there, think him insane ? Such a use 



68 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

_ . . . I ■ ■ — « 

of this word is a mere trope with most who persist in 
using it, and I have no doubt that many of the rest have 
already in silence retracted their words. 

Read his admirable answers to Mason and others. 
How they are dwarfed and defeated by the contrast ! 
On the one side, half-brutish, half-timid questioning ; ^ 
on the other, truth, clear as lightning, crashing into 
their obscene temples. They are made to stand with 
Pilate, and Gesler, and the Inquisition. How ineffectual 
their speech and action, and what a void their silence ! 
They are but helpless tools in this great work. It 
was no human power that gathered them about this 

What have Massachusetts and the North sent a few 
sane representatives to Congress for, of late years ? — to 
declare with effect what kind of sentiments ? All their 
speeches put together and boiled down, — and probably 
they themselves will confess it, — do not match for manly 
directness and force, and for simple truth, the few casual 
remarks of crazy John Brown, on the floor of the Har- 
per's Ferry engine house, — that man whom you are about 
to hang, to send to the other world, though not to repre- 
sent you there. No, he was not our representative in 

/any sense. He was too fair a specimen of a man to 
represent the like of us. Who, then, were his con- 

' stitaents ? If you read his words understandingly, you 
will find out. In his case there is no idle eloquence, no 
made, nor maiden speech, no compliments to the oppres- 
sor. Truth is his inspirer, and earnestness the polisher ' 
of his sentences. He could afford to lose his Sharpens 
rifles, while he retained his faculty of speech, — a Sharpe'^ * 
rifle of infinitely surer and longer range. 


A Plea for Captain John Brown, 69 

«— — — — I - I- I 

And the New York Herald reports the conversation 
verbatim ! It does not know of what undying words it 
is made the vehicle. 

I have no respect for the penetratiqn of any man who 
can read the report of that conversation, and still call the 
principal in it insane. It has the ring of a saner sanity 
than an ordinary discipline and habits of life, than an 
ordinary organization, secure. Take any sentence of it : 
*^Any questions that I can honorably answer, I will; 
not otherwise. So far as I am myself concerned, I have 
told everything truthfully. I value my word, sir." The 
few who talk about his vindictive spirit, while they really 
admire his heroism, have no test by which to detect a 
noble man, no amalgam to combine with his pure gold. 
They mix their own dross with it. 

It is a relief to turn from these slanders to the testi- 
mony of his more truthful, but frightened jailers and 
hangmen. Governor Wise speaks far more justly and 
appreciatingly of him than any Northern editor, or poli- 
tician, or public personage, that I chance to have heard 
f ronu I know that you can afford to hear him again on 
this subject. He says : ^^ T|igy are them selve s mista ken 
^o^take him to be a madman./ . . \ He is cool, 
colledked, and inclomicable, and~it is but just to him to 
say, that he was humane to his prisoners. . . . And 
be inspired me with great trust in his integrity as a 
man of truth. He is a fanatic, vain and garrulous^' 
(I leave that part to Mr. Wise), ^^but firm, truthful, 
and intelligent. His men, too, who survive, are like 
him. . . . Colonel Washington says that he was 
the coolest and firmest man he ever saw in defying 
danger and death. With one son dead by his side, and 

70 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 

anotker shot through, he felt the pulse of his dying son 
with one hand, and held his rifle with the other, and 
commanded his men with the utmost composure, en- 
couraging them to be firm, and to sell their lives as 
dear as they could. Of the three white prisoners, Brown, 
Stephens, and Coppic^ it was hard to say which was most 

Almost the first Northern men whom the slaveholder 
has learned to respect ! 

The testimony of Mr. Vallandigham, though less 
valuable, is of the same purport, that "it is vain to 
underrate either the man or his conspiracy. . . . He 
is the farthest possible removed from the ordinary rufiian, 
fanatic, or madman." 

" All is quiet at Harper's Ferry,'' say the journals. 
What is the character of that calm which follows when 
the law and the slaveholder prevail ? I regard this 
event as a touchstone designed to bring out, with glaring 
distinctness, the character of this government. We 
, needed to be thus assisted to see it by the light of 
history. It needed to see itself. When a government 
i- puts forth its strength on the side of injustice, as ours to 
maintain slavery and kill the liberators of the slave, it "^ 
reveals itself a merely brute force, or worse, a demoniacal 
force. It is the head of the Plug-Uglies. It is more 
manifest than ever that tyranny rules. I see this govern- 
\ ment to be effectually allied with France and Austria in 
oppressing mankind. There sits a tyrant holding fet- 
tered four millions of slaves ; here comes their heroic 
liberator. This most hypocritical and diabolical govern- 
ment looks up from its seat on the gasping four millions, 
and inquires with an assumption of innocence: "What 

A Plea for Captain John Brown. 71 

^o you assault me for ? Am I not an honest man ? 
Cease agitation on this subject, or I will make a slave of 
you, too, or else hang you/' 

We talk about a representative government ; but what 
a monster of a government is that where the noblest 
faculties of the mind, and the whole heart, are not re- 
presented! A semi-human tiger or ox, stalking over the 
earth, with its heart taken out and the top of its brain 
shot away. Heroes have fought well on their stumps 
when their legs were shot off, but I never heard of any 
good done by such a government as that. 

Thft oTily govf^rnment that I recogniz e, — and it mattera ^ 
not how few are at the head of it, or how small its arrayA \ 

is that powftr that ftstftbliflliftf;; jnaf.inA in tlifl 1n.nflj \ 

never that which establishes injustic e. "What shall we 
>( tbink of a government to which all the truly brave and 
just men in the land are enemies, standing between it 
and those whom it oppresses ? A government that pre- / 
tends to be Christian and crucifies a million Christs f 
every day ! 

Treason ! Where does such treason take its rise ? I 
cannot help thinking of you as you deserve, ye govern- 
ments. Can you dry up the fountains of thought ? High 
treason, when it is resistance to tyranny here below, has 
its origin in, and is first committed by, the power that 
makes and forever recreates man. When you have 
caught and hung all these human rebels, you have ac- 
complished nothing but your own guilt, for you have not 
struck at the fountain-head. Tou presume to contend 
with a foe against whom West Point cadets and rifled 
CQMnon point not. Can all the art of the cannon- founder 
tempt matter to turn against its maker ? Is the form in 

y2 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 

which the founder thinks he casts it more essential than 
the constitution of it and of himself ? 

The United States have a co£9e of four millions of 
, felaves. They are determined to keep them in this con- 
j dition; and Massachusetts is one of the confederated 
overseers to prevent their escape. Such are not all the 
inhabitants of Massachusetts^ but such are they who rule 
and are obeyed here. It was Massachusetts^ as well as 
Virginia, that put down this insurrection at Harper's 
Ferry. She sent the marines there, and she will have io 
pay the penalty of her sin. 

Suppose that there is a society in this State that out 
of its own purse and magnanimity saves all the fugitive 
slaves that run to us, and protects our colored fellow- 
/ citizens, and leaves the other work to the government, 
' so-called. Is not that government fast losing its occu- 
pation, and becoming contemptible to mankind ? If 
private men are obliged to perform the offices of govern- 
ment, to protect the weak and dispense justice, then the 
government becomes only a hired man, or clerk, to per- 
form menial or indiflFerent services. Of course, that is but 
the shadow of a government whose existence necessitates 
a Vigilant Committee. What should we think of the 
Oriental Cadi even, behind whom worked in secret a 
vigilant committee? But such is the character of our 
Northern States generally ; each has its Vigilant Com- 
mittee. And, to a certain extent, these crazy govern- 
ments recognize and accept this relation. They say, 
virtually, *^ We'll be glad to work for you on these terms, 
only don't make a noise about it." And thus the govern- 
ment, its salary being insured, withdraws into the back 
shop, takiug the Constitution with it, and bestows most 


A Plea for Captain John Brown. 73 

of its labor on repairing that. When I hear it at work 
sometimes^ as I go by, it reminds me, at best, of those 
farmers who in winter contrive to turn a penny by follow- 
ing the coopering business. And what kind of spirit is 
their barrel made to hold ? They speculate in stocks 
and bore holes in mountains, but they are not competent 
to lay out even a decent highway. The only free road, I 
the Underground Bailroad, is owned and managed by \ 
the Vigilant Committee. They have tunnelled under the \ 
whole breadth of the land. Such a government is losing j 
its power and respectability as sorely as water runs out 
of a leaky vessel, and is held by one that can contain it. 
/I hear many condemn these men because they were 
so few. When were the good and the brave ever in a 
^ majority ? Would you have had him wait till that time 
came ? — till you and I came over to him ? The very 
fact that he had no rabble or troop of hirelings about 
him would alone distinguish him from ordinary heroes. 
His company was small indeed, because few could be 
found worthy to pass muster. Each one who there laid 
down his life for the poor and oppressed was a picked 
man, culled out of many thousands, if not millions ; ap- 
parfiBiljja jaan of principle, of rare courage, and devoted 
humanity ; ready to sacrifice his life at any moment for \ 
thejbenefit of his fellow-man. It may be doubted if there \ 
were as many more their equals in these respects in all 
the country; — I speak of his followers only; — for their 
leader, no doubt, scoured the land far and wide, seeking 
to swell his troop. These alone were ready to step be- 
tween the oppressor and the oppressed. Surely they 
were the very best men you could select to be hung. ! 
That was the greatest compliment which this country 

74 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers. 

could pay them. They were ripe for her gallows. She 
has tried a long time, she has hung a good many, but^ 
never found the right one before. 

When I think of him and his six sons, and his son-in- 
law, not to enumerate the others, enlisted for this fight, 
proceeding coolly, reverently, humanely to work, for 
months if not years, sleeping and waking upon it, sum- 
mering and wintering the thought, without expecting 
any reward but a good conscience, while almost all 
America stood ranked on the other side, — I say again 
that it affects me as a sublime spectacle. If he had had 
any journal advocating ^^ his cause/* any organ, as the 
phrase is, monotonously and wearisomely playing .the 
same old tune, and then passing round the hat, it would 
have been fatal to his efficiency. If he had acted in any 
way so as to be let alone by the government, he might 
have been suspected. It was the fact that the tyrant 
must give place to him, or he to the tyrant, that distin- 
guished him from all the reformers of the day that I 

It was his peculiar doctrine that a man has a perfect 
right to interfere by force with the slaveholder, in order 
\; I to rescue the slave. I agree with him. They who are V 
continually shocked by slavery have some right to be 
shocked by the violent death of the slaveholder, iut^no 
others. Such will be more shocked by his life than by 
his death. I shall not be forward, to think him mistaken 
in his method who quickest succeeds to liberate the slave. 
I speak for the slave when I say, that I prefer the phi- 
lanthropy of Captain Brown to that philanthropy which 
neither shoots me nor liberates me. At any rate, I do 
not think it is quite sane for one to spend his whole life 

A Plea for Captain John Brown. 75 

in talkiDg or writing about this matter, unless he is con- 
tinuously inspired, and I have not done so. A man may 
have other affairs to attend to. I do not wish to kill nor J 
to be killed, but I can foresee circumstances in which 
both these things would be by me unavoidable. We 
preserve the so-called peace of our community by deeds 
of petty violence every day. Look at the policeman's 
billy and handcuffs ! Look at the jail ! Look at the 
gallows ! Look at the chaplain of the regiment ! We 
are hoping only to live safely on the outskirts of iliis 
provisional army. So we defend ourselves and our hen- 
roosts, and maintain slavery. I know that the mass of 
my countrymen think that the only righteous use that 
can be made of Sharpens rifles and revolvers is to fight 
duels with them, when we are insulted by other nations, 
or to hunt Indians, or shoot fugitive slaves with them, or [ » 
the like. I think that for once the Sharpens rifles and! 
the revolvers were employed in a righteous cause. The \ 
tools were in the hands of one who could use them. 

The same indignation that is said to have cleared the 
temple once will clear it again. The question is not 
about the weapon, but the spirit in which you use it. 
No man has appeared in America, as yet, who loved his 
fellow-man so well and treated him so tenderly. He 
lived for him. He took up his life and he laid it down 
for him. What sort of violence is that which is encour- 
aged, not by soldiers, but by peaceable citizens, not so 
much by laymen as by ministers of the Gospel, not so 
much by the fighting sects as by the Quakers, and not so 
much by Quaker men as by Quaker women ? 

This event advertises me that there is such a fact as 
death, — the possibility of a man's dying. It seems as if 

7^ A nti- Slavery and Reform Papers. 

no man had ever died in America before ; for in order to A 
die you must firs t have lived. I don't believe in the 
hearses, and palls^ and funerals that they have had. 
There was no death in the case, because there had been 
no life ; they merely rotted or sloughed oflF, pretty much 
as they had rotted or sloughed along. No temple's veil 
was rent, only a hole dug somewhere. Let the dead 
bury their dead. The best of them fairly ran down like 
a clock. Franklin, — Washington, — they were let off 
without dying; they were merely missing one day. I 
hear a good many pretend that they are going to die ; 
or that they have died, for aught that I know. Non- 
sense ! I'll defy them to do it. They haven't got life 
enough in them. They'll deliquesce like fungi, and keep 
a hundred eulogists mopping the spot where they left 
off. Only half a dozen or so have died since the world 
began. Do you think that you are going to die, sir?' 
No ! there's no hope pf you. Tou haven't got your 
lesson yet. You've got to stay after school. We make 
a needless ado about capital punishment, — taking lives, 
when there is no life to take. Memento mori ! We 
don't understand that sublime sentence which some 
worthy got sculptured on his gravestone once. We've 
interpreted it in a grovelling and snivelling sense ; 
we've wholly forgotten how to die. 

But be sure you do die nevertheless. Do your work, 
and finish it. If you know how to begin, you will know 
when to end. 

These men, in teachiug us how to die, have at the 
same time taught us how to live. If this man's acts and 
words do not create a revival, it will be the severest 
possible satire on the acts and words that do. It is the 


A Plea for Captain John Brown. JJ 

best news that America has ever heard. It has already 
quickened the feeble pulse of the North, and infused 
more and more generous blood into her veins and heart, 
than any number of years of what is called commercial 
and political prosperity could. How many a man who 
was lately contemplating suicide has now something to 
live for ! 

One writer says that Brown's peculiar monomania / 
made him to be '^ dreaded by the Missourians as a super- 
natural being.'' Sure enough, a hero in the midst of us ■ 
cowards is always so dreaded. He is just that thing. 
He shows himself superior to nature. He has a spark of 
divinity in him. 

" Unless above himself he can 
Erect himself, how poor a thing is man!*' 

Newspaper editors argue also that it is a proof of his 
insanity that he thought he was appointed to do this work 
which he did, — that he did not suspect himself for a 
moment ! They talk as if it were impossible that a man 
could be *^ divinely appointed " in these days to do any 
work whatever ; as if vows and religion were out of date 
as connected with any man's daily work ; as if the agent 
to abolish slavery could only be somebody appointed by 
the President, or by some political party. They talk as 
if a man's death were a failure, and his continued life, be 
it of whatever character, were a success. 

When I reflect to what a cause this man devoted him- 
self, and how religiously, and then reflect to what cause 
his judges and all who condemn him so angrily and 
fluently devote themselves, I see that they are as far 
apart as the heavens and earth are asunder. The amount 
of it is, our '^ leading men " are a harmless kind of folk. 


78 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

and they know well enough that they were not divinely 
appointed, but elected by the votes of their party. 

Who is it whose safety requires that Captain Brown 
be hung ? Is it indispensable to any Northern man ? 
Is there no resource but to cast this man also to the 
Minotaur ? If you do not wish it, say so distinctly. 
While these things are being done, beauty stands veiled, 
and music is a screeching lie. Think of him, — of his rare 
qualities ! — such a man as it takes ages to make, and 
ages to understand; no mock hero, nor the representative 
of any party. A man such as the sun may not rise upon 
again in this benighted land. To whose making went 
the costliest material, the finest adamant ; sent to be the 
redeemer of those in captivity ; and the only use to which 
you can put him is to hang him at the end of a rope ! 

ou who pretend to care for Christ crucified, consider 

hat you are about to do to him who oflFered himself to 

e the savior of four millions of men. 

Any man knows when he is justified, and all the wits 
in the world cannot enlighten him on that point. The 
murderer always knows that he is justly punished; but 
when a government takes the life of a man without the 
consent of his conscience, it is an audacious government, 

yand is taking a step towards its own dissolution. Is it 
not possible that an individual may be right and a 
[government wrong ? Are laws to be enforced simply 
because they were made ? or declared by any number of 
men to be good, if they are not good ? Is there any 
necessity for a man^s being a tool to perform a deed of 
which his better nature disapproves ? Is it the intention 
of law-makers that good men shall be hung ever ? Are 
judges to interpret the law according to the letter, and 

A Plea for Captain John Brown, 79 

= \ 

not the spirit 7 What right have you to enter into a 
compact with yourself that you will do thus or so, against 
the light within you ? Is it for you to twake up your 
mind, — to form any resolution whatever, — and not accept 
the convictions that are forced upon you, and which ever 
pass your understanding ? I do not believe in lawyers, 
in that mode of attacking or defending a man, because 
you descend to meet the judge on his own ground, and, 
in cases of the highest importance, it is of no consequence 
whether a man breaks a human law or not. Let lawyers 
decide trivial cases. Business men may arrange that 
among themselves. If they were the interpreters of the 
everlasting laws which rightfully bind man, that would 
be another thing. A counterfeiting law-factory, standing 
half in a slave land and half in a free ! What kind of 
laws for free men can you expect from that ? 

I am here to plead his cause with you. I plead not 
for his life, but for his character, — his immortal life; and 
so it becomes your cause wholly, and is not his in the 
least. Some eighteen hundred years ago Christ was 
crucified ; this morning, perchance. Captain Brown was 
hung. These are the two ends of a chain which is not 
without its links. He is not Old Brown any longer ; ho 
is an angel of light. 

I see now that it was necessary that the bravest and 
humanest man in all the country should be hung. Per- 
haps he saw it himself. I almost fear that I may yet \ 
hear of his deliverance, doubting if a prolonged life, if 
any life, can do as much good as his death. 

" Misguided '* ! '' Garrulous '' ! '' Insane " I '' Vin- 
dictive ** ! So ye write in your easy-chairs, and thus he, 
wounded, responds from the floor of the Armory, clear as 

8o ' Anti-Slavery aftd Reform Papers, 


a cloudless sky, true as the voice of nature is : " No man 
sent me here ; it was my own prompting and that of my 
Maker. I acknowledge no master in human form/' 

And in what a sweet and noble strain he proceeds, 
addressing his captors, who stand over him : " I think, 
' my friends, you are guilty of a great wrong against God 
and humanity, and it would be perfectly right for any one 
to interfere with you so far as to free those you wilfully 
and wickedly hold in bondage/' 

And, referring to his movement : "It is, in my opinion, 
the greatest service a man can render to God/' 

" I pity the poor in bondage that have none to help 
them; that is why I am here; not to gratify any personal 
animosity, revenge, or vindictive spirit. It is my sym- 
pathy with the oppressed and the wronged, that are as 
good as you, and as precious in the sight of God.'' 

You don't know your testament when you see it. 
J p ''I want you to understand that I respect the rights of 
the poorest and weakest of colored people, oppressed by 
slave power, just as much as I do those of the most 
wealthy and powerful." 

" I wish to say, furthermore, that you had better, all 
you people at the South, prepare yourselves for a settle- 
ment of that question, that must come up for settlement 
sooner than you are prepared for it. The sooner you are 
prepared the better. You may dispose of me very easily. 
I am nearly disposed of now ; but this question is still to 
be settled, — this negro question, I mean; the end of 
that is not yet." 

I foresee the time when the painter will paint that 
scene, no longer going to Rome for a subject ; the poet 
will sing it ; the historian record it ; and, with the Land- 




A Plea for Captain Joh?i Brown. 8 \ 

ing of the Pilgrims and the Declaration of Independence, 
it will be the ornament of some future national gallerj^ 
when at least the present form of slavery shall be nu 
more here. We shall then be at liberty to weep for 
Captain Brown. ' Then^ and not till then^ we will take our 



John Brown's career for the last six weeks of his life was 
meteor-like, flashing through the darkness in which we 
live. I know of nothing so miraculous in our history. 

If any person, in a lecture or conversation at that 
time, cited any ancient example of heroism, such as Cato 
or Tell or Winkelried, passing over the recent deeds and 
words of Brown, it was felt by any intelligent audience of 
Northern men to be tame and inexcusably far-fetched. 

For my own part I commonly attend more to nature 
than to man, but any affecting human event may blind 
our eyes to natural objects. I was so absorbed in him as 
to be surprised whenever I detected the routine of the 
natural world surviving still, or met persons going about 
their affairs indifferent. It appeared strange to me that 
the ''little dipper" should be still diving quietly in the 
river, as of yore ; and it suggested that this bird might 
continue to dive here when Concord should be no more. 

I felt that he, a prisoner in the midst of his enemies, 
and under sentence of death, if consulted as to his next 
step or resource, could answer more wisely than all his 
countrymen beside. He best understood his position ; 

* Bead at North Elba, July 4, 1860. Published in the Liberator, 
July 27 1860. 


TJie Last Days of John Brown, 83 

he contemplated it most calmly. Comparatively, all other 
men^ North and South, were beside themselves. Oar 
thoughts could not revert to any greater or wiser or 
better man with whom to contrast him, for he, then and 
there, was above them all. The man this country was 
about to hang appeared the greatest and best in it. 

Years were not required for a revolution of public 
opinion; days, nay hours, produced marked changes in 
this case. Fifty who were ready to say on going into 
our meeting in honor of him in Concord, that he ought 
to be hung, would not say it when they came out. They 
heard his words read ; they saw the earnest faces of the 
congregation ; and perhaps they joined at last in singing 
the hymn in his praise. 

The order of instructors was reversed. I heard that 
one preacher, who at first was shocked and stood aloof, 
felt obliged at last, after he was hung, to make him the 
subject of a sermon, in which, to some extent, he eulo- 
gized the man, but said that his act was a failure. An 
influential class-teacher thought it necessary, after the 
services, to tell his grown-up pupils, that at first he 
thought as the preacher did then, but now he thought 
that John Brown was right. But it was understood that 
his pupils were as much ahead of the teacher as he was 
ahead of the priest; and I know for a certainty, that\ 
very little boys at home had already asked their parents, \ 
in a tone of surprise, why God did not interfere to save 
him. In each case, the constituted teachers were only 
half conscious that they were not leading y but being 
dragged, with some loss of time and power. 

The more conscientious preachers, the Bible men, they 
who talk about principle, and doing to others as you 

84 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 

would that they should do unto you, how could they fail 
to recognize him, by far the greatest preacher of them 
all, with the Bible in his life and in his acts, the embodi- 
ment of principle, who actually carried out the golden 
rule ? All whose moral sense had been aroused, who 
had a calling from on high to preach, sided with him. 
What confessions he extracted from the cold and con- 
servative ! It is remarkable, but on the whole it is well, 
that it did not prove the occasion for a new sect of 
Brownites being formed in our midst. 

They, whether within the Church or out of it, who 
adhere to the spirit and let go the letter, and are accord- 
ingly called infidel, were as usual foremost to recognize 
him. Men have been hung in the South before for 
attempting to rescue slaves, and the North was not much 
stirred by it. Whence, then, this wonderful difierence f 
We were not so sure of their devotion to principle. We 
made a subtle distinction, forgot human laws, and did 
\ homage to an idea. The North, I mean the living North, 
was suddenly all transcendental. It went behind the 
^human law, it went behind the apparent failure, and 
recognized eternal justice and glory. Commonly, men 
live according to a formula, and are satisfied if the order 
of law is observed, but in this instance they, to some 
extent, returned to original perceptions, and there was a 
slight revival of old religion. They saw that what was 
called order was confusion, what was called justice, in- 
justice, and that the best was deemed the worst. This 
attitude suggested a more intelligent and generous spirit 
than that which actuated our forefathers, and the possi- 
bility, in the course of ages, of a revolution in behalf of 
another and an oppressed people. 

The Last Days of John Brown. 85 

Most Northern men, and a few Southern ones, were 
wonderfully stirred by Brown's behavior and words. 
They saw and felt that they were heroic and noble, and 
that there had been nothing quite equal to them in their 
kind in this country, or in the recent history of the 
world. But the minority were unmoved by them. They 
were only surprised and provoked by the attitude of their 
neighbors. They saw that Brown was brave, and that 
he believed that he had done right, but they did not 
detect any further peculiarity in him. Not being 
accustomed to make fine distinctions, or to appreciate 
magnanimity, they read his letters and speeches as if 
they read them not. They were not aware when they 
approached a heroic statement, — they did not know when 
they burned. They did not feel that he spoke with 
authority, and hence they only remembered thaj^the law 
must be executed. They remembered the/old formula, 
but did not hear the new revelation. The^an who does 
not recognize in Brown's words a wisdom and nobleness, 
and therefore an authority, superior to our law, is a 
modern Democrat. This is the test by which to discover 
him. He is not wilfully but constitutionally blind on 
this side, and he is consistent with himself. Such has 
been his past life; no doubt of it. In like manner he 
has read history and his Bible, and he accepts, or seems 
to accept, the last only as an established formula, and 
not because he has been convicted by it. You will not 
find kindred sentiments in his common-place book, if he 
has one. 

When a noble deed is done, who is likely to appreciate 
it ? They who are noble themselves. I was not sur- 
prised that ceruain of my neighbors spoke of John 


Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

Brown as an ordinary felon, for who are they ? They 
have either much flesh, or much office, or much coarse- 
ness of some kind. They are not ethereal natures in any 
sense. The dark qualities predominate in them. Several 
of them are decidedly pachydermatous. I say it in 
sorrow, not in anger. How can a man behold the light, 
who has no answering inward light ? They are true to 
their riglii^ but when they look this way they see nothing, 
they are blind. For the children of the light to contend 
with them is as if there should be a contest between 
eagles and owls*^— Shoj^me a man who feels Jjitterlv 
igward John Brown, and let me near w batnoble vers e 
he can repeat, lie' 11 be as dumu as iT his lips were 

it is'iiot every man who can be a Christian, even in a 
very moderate sense, whatever education you give him. 
It is a matter of constitution and temperament, after all. 
He may have to be born again many times. I have 
known many a man who pretended to be a Christian, in 
whom it was ridiculous, for he had no genius for it. It 
is not every man who can be a free-man, even. 

Editors persevered for a good while in saying that 
Brown was crazy ; but at last they said only that it was 
*^a crazy scheme/' and the only evidence brought to 
prove it was that it cost him his life. I havy no doubt 
that if he had gone with five thousand men, liberated a 
thousand slaves, killed a hundred or two slaveholders, and 
had as many more killed on his own side, but not lost 
his own life, these same editors would have espied it by 
a more respectable name. Yet^ ];iP ^^^ KftAn far jnnrA 
QnppAggfn l than that^^He has liberated many thousam' 
of slaves, both North and ISqutli7 


The Last Days of John Brown. 87 

They seem to have known nothing about living or 
dying for a principle. They all called him crazy then ; 
who calls him crazy now ? 

All through the excitement occasioned by his re- 
markable attempt and subsequent behavior^ the Massa- 
chusetts Legislature^ not taking any steps for the defence 
of her citizens who were likely to be carried to Virginia 
as witnesses and exposed to the violence of a slaveholding 
mob^ was wholly absorbed in a liquor-agency questipn^ 
and indulging in poor jokes on the word ^' extension." 
Bad spirits occupied their thoughts. I am sure that no 
statesman up to the occasion could have attended to that 
question at all at that time — a very vulgar question to 
attend to at any time ! 

When I looked into a liturgy of the Church of England, 
printed near the end of the last century, in order to find 
a service applicable to the case of Brown, I found that 
the only martyr recognized and provided for by it was 
King * Charles the First, an eminent scamp. Of all the 
inhabitants of England and of the world, he was the only 
one, according to this authority, whom that Church had 
made a martyr and saint of; and for more than a century 
it had celebrated his martyrdom, so called, by an annual 
service. What a satire on the Church is that ! 

Look not to legislatures and churches for your guid- [/ 
ance, nor to any soulless incorporated bodies, but to 
inspirited or inspired ones. 

What avail all your scholarly accomplishments and 
learning, compared with wisdom and manhood ? To 
omit his other behavior, see what a work this compara- 
tively unread and unlettered man wrote within six weeks. 
Where is our professor of belleS'lettres or of logic and 

88 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers. 

rhetoric, who can write so well ? He wrote in prison, 
not a History of the World, like Raleigh, but an 
American book which I think will live longer than that. 
I do not know of such words, uttered under such cir- 
cumstances, and so copiously withal, in Roman or English 
or any history. What a variety of themes he touched on 
in that short space ! There are words in that letter to 
his wife, respecting the education of his daughters, which 
deserve to be framed and hung over every mantel-piece 
in the land. Compare this earnest wisdom with that of 
Poor Richard. 

The death of Irving, which at any other time would 
have attracted universal attention, having occurred while 
these things were transpiring, went almost unobserved. 
I shall have to read of it in the biography of authors. 

Literary gentlemen, editors, and critics, think that 
they know how to write, because they have studied 
grammar and rhetoric; but they are egregiously mis- 
taken. The art of composition is as simple as the 
discharge of a bullet from a rifle, and its masterpieces 
imply an infinitely greater force behind them. This 
unlettered man^s speaking and writing are standard 
English. Some words and phrases deemed vulgarisms 
and Americanisms before, he has made standard Ameri- 
can ; such as " It will pay." It suggests that the one 
great rule of composition — and if I were a professor 
of rhetoric I should insist on this— is, to speak the 
truth. This first, this second, this third ; pebbles in your 
mouth or not. This demands earnestness and manhood 

We seem to have forgotten that the expression, a 
liberal education, originally meant among the Romans 

The Last Days of John Brown. 89 

one worthy of free men ; while the learning of trades and 
professions by which to get your livelihood merely was 
considered worthy of slaves only. But taking a hint 1 
from the word, I would go a step further, and say, that it \ 
is not the man of wealth and leisure simply, though I 
devoted to art, or science, or literature, who, in a true \ \ 
sense, is liberally educated, but only the earnest and free * ^ 
man. In a slaveholding country like this, there can be 
no such thing as a liberal education tolerated by the * 
State; and those scholars of Austria and France who, 
however learned they may be, are contented under their 
tyrannies, have received only a servile education. 

Nothing could his enemies do, but it redounded to his 
infinite advantage — that is, to the advantage of his cause. 
They did not hang him at once, but reserved him to 
preach to them. And then there was another great 
blunder. They did not hang his four followers with him; 
that scene was still postponed; and so his victory was^ 
prolonged and completed. No theatrical manager could y 
have arranged things so wisely to give eflfect to hisV 
behavior and words. And who, think vou, wa^ the 1 
manager ? Who placed the slave-woman and her child, 
whom he stooped to kiss for a symbol, between his prison J 
and the gallows ? 

We soon saw, as he saw, that he was not to be 
pardoned or rescued by men. That would have been to 
disarm him, to restore him to a material weapon, a 
Sharpens rifle, when he had taken up the sword of the 
spirit — the sword with which he has really won his J 
greatest and most memorable victories. Now he has not 
laid aside the sword of the spirit, for he is pure spirit 
himself^ and his sword is pure spirit also. 

9Q ' Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers. 

** He nothing common did or mean 
« Upon that memorable scene, 

Nor called the gods with vulgar spite, 

To vindicate his helpless right ; 

But bowed his comely head 

Down as upon a bed.** 

What a transit was that of his horizontal body alone, 
but just cut down from the gallows-tree ! We read, that 
at such a time it passed through Philadelphia, and by 
Saturday night had reached New York. Thus, like a 
meteor, it shot through the Union from the Southern 
regions towards the North ! No such freight had the 
cars borne since they carried him Southward alive. 

On the day of his translation, I heard, to be sure, that 
he was liung, but I did not know what that meant ; I felfc 
no sorrow on that account ; but not for a day or two did 
I even liear that he was dieadiy and not after any number 
of days shall I believe it. Of all the men who were said 
to be my contemporaries, it seemed to me that John. 
Brown was the only one who }iad not died. I never hear 
of a man named Brown now — and I hear of them pretty 
often — I never hear of any particularly brave and earnest 
man, but my first thought is of John Brown, and what 
relation he may be to him. I meet him at every turn. 
He is more alive than ever he was. He has earned im- 
mortality. He is not confined to North Elba nor to 
Kansas. He is no longer working in secret. He works in 
public, and in the clearest light that shines on this land. 


We learn that Mr. Etzler is a native of Germany, and 
originally published his book in Pennsylvania, ten or 
twelve years ago; and now a second English edition, 
from the original American one, is demanded by his 
readers across the water, owing, we suppose, to the re- 
cent spread of Pourier^s doctrines. It is one of the signs 
of the times. We confess that we have risen from read- 
ing this book with enlarged ideas, and grander concep- 
tions of our duties in this world. It did expand us a 
little. It is worth attending to, if only that it entertains 
large questionls. Consider what Mr. Etzler proposes : — 

" Fellow-men ! I promise to show the means of creating 
a paradise within ten "years, where everything desirable for 
human life may be had by every man in superabundance, 
without labor, and without pay; where the whole face of 
nature shall be changed into the most beautiful forms, 
and man may live in the most magnificent palaces, in all 
imaginable refinements of luxury, and in the most delightful 
gardens; where he may accomplish, without labor, in one 

* The Paradise vnthin the Reach of all Men, loithout Labour , hy 
Powers of Nature and Machinery. 4ji Address to ail intelligent 
Men. In Two Parts. By J. A. Etzler. Part First. Second 
English Edition. London, 1842. pp. 55. • 

Thoreau's essay was published in the Democratic Review, New 
York, November, 1843. 


92 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

year, more than hitherto could be done in thousands of 
years ; may level mountains, sink valleys, create lakes, drain 
lakes and swamps, and intersect the land everywhere with 
beautiful canals, and roads for transporting heavy loads of 
many thousand tons, and for travelling one thousand miles 
in twenty-four hours; may cover the ocean with floating 
islands, movable in any desired direction with immense power 
and celerity, in perfect security, and with all comforts and 
luxuries, bearing gardens and palaces, with thousands of 
families, and provided with rivulets of sweet water ; may ex- 
plore the interior of the globe, and travel from pole io pole 
in a fortnight ; provide himself with means, unheard of yet, 
for increasing his knowledge of the world, and so his intelli- 
gence ; lead a life of continual happiness, of enjoyments yet 
unknown ; free himself from almost all the evils that afflict 
mankind, except death, and even put death far beyond the 
common period of human life, and finally render it less 
afflicting. Mankind may thus live in and enjoy a new world, 
far superior to the present, and raise themselves far higher 
in the scale of being." 

It would seem from this and various indications beside, 
that there is a transcendentalism in mechanics as well as * 
in ethics. While the whole field of the one reformer lies 
beyond the boundaries of space, the other is pushing his 
schemes for the elevation of the race to its utmost limits. 
While one scours the heavens, the other sweeps the earth. 
One says ho will reform himself, and then nature and cir- 
cumstances will be right. Let us not obstruct ourselves, 
for that is the greatest friction. It is of little importance 
though a cloud obstruct the view of the astronomer com- 
pared with his own blindness. The other will reform 
nature and circumstances, and then man will be right. 
Talk no more vaguely, says he, of reforming the world, — 

Paradise {to be) Regained. 93 

I will reform the globe itself. What matters it whether 
I remove this hamor oat of my fleshy or this pestilent 
humor from the fleshy part of the globe ? Nay, is not 
the latter the more generous coarse ? At present the 
globe goes with a shattered constitution in its orbit. 
Has it not asthma, and ague, and fever, and dropsy, and 
flatulence, and pleurisy, and is it not afflicted with ver- 
min ? Has it not its healthful laws counteracted, and its 
vital energy which will yet redeem it ? No doubt the 
simple powers of nature, properly directed by man, would 
make it healthy and a paradise ; as the laws of man's own | J 
constitution but wait to be obeyed, to restore him to 
health and happiness. Our panaceas cure but few ails, 
our general hospitals are private and exclusive. We must 
set up another Hygeia than is now worshipped. Do not 
the quacks even direct small doses for children, larger for 
adults, and larger still for oxen and horses ? Let us re- 
member that'we are to prescribe for the globe itself. 

This fair homestead has fallen to us, and how little 
have we done to improve it, how little have we cleared 
and hedged and ditched! We are too inclined to go 
hence to a '^ better land,^' without lifting a finger, as our 
farmers are moving to the Ohio soil ; but would it not 
be more heroic and faithful to till and redeem this New 
England soil of the world ? The still youthful energies 
of the globe have only to be directed in their proper 
channel. Every gazette brings accounts of the untutored 
freaks of the wind — shipwrecks and hurricanes which 
the mariner and planter accept as special or general 
providences ; but they touch our consciences, they remind 
us of our sins. Another deluge would disgrace mankind. 
We confess we never had much respect for that ante- 


94 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

dilavian race. A thoroughbred business man cannot enter 
heartily upon the business of life without first lookiDg 
into his accounts. How many things are now at loose 
ends ! Who knows which way the wind will blow to-mor- 
row ? Let us not succumb to nature. We will marshal 
the clouds and restrain tempests ; we will bottle up pes- 
tilent exhalations j we will probe for earthquakes, grab 
them up, and give vent to the dangerous gas; we will 
disembowel the volcano, and extract its poison, take its 
seed out. We will wash water, and warm fire, and cool 


ice, and underprop the earth. We will teach birds tO/ 
fly, and fishes to swim, and ruminants to chew the cudJ 
It is time we had looked into these things. 

And it becomes the moralist, too, to inquire what man 
might do to improve and beautify the system; what to 
make the stars shine more brightly, the sun more cheery 
and joyous, the moon more placid and content. Could 
he not heighten the tints of flowers and the melody of 
birds ? Does he perform his duty to the inferior races ? 
Should he not be a god to them ? What is the part of 
magnanimity to the whale and the beaver ? Should we 
not fear to exchange places with them for a day, lest by 
their behavior they should shame us ? Might we not 
treat with magnanimity the shark and the tiger, not 
descend to meet them on their own level, with spears of 
sharks' teeth and bucklers of tiger's skin ? We slander 
the hyena ; man is the fiercest and cruellest animal. Ah ! 
he is of little faith : even the erring comets and meteors 
would thank him, and return his kindness in their kind. 

How meanly and grossly do we deal with nature! 
Could we not have a less gross labor? What else do 
these fine inventions suggest — magnetism, the daguerreo- 


Paradise (Jo be) Regained, 95 

type, electricity ? Can we not do more than cut and trim 
the forest — can we not assist in its interior economy, in 
the circulation of the sap ? Now we work superficially 
and violently. We do not suspect how much might be 
done to improve our relation to animated nature even ; 
what kindness and refined courtesy there might be. 

There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic 
and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation 
to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for in- 
stance, is a very slight interference. It is like directing 
the sunbeams. All nations, from the remotest antiquity, 
have thus fingered nature. There are Hymettus and 
Hybla, and how many bee - renowned spots beside ? 
There is nothing gross in the idea of these little herds, 
their hum like the faintest low of kine in the meads. A 
pleasant reviewer has lately reminded us that in some 
places they are led out to pasture where the flowers are 
most abundant. '^ Columella tells us,** says he, " that 
the inhabitants of Arabia sent their hives into Attica to 
benefit by the later-blowing flowers." Annually are the 
hives, in immense pyramids, carried up the Nile in boats, 
and suffered to float slowly down the stream by night, 
resting by day, as the flowers put forth along the banks ; 
and they determine the richness of any locality, and so 
the profitableness of delay, by the sinking of the boat in 
the water. We are told, by the same reviewer, of a 
man in Germany, whose bees yielded more honey than 
those of his neighbors, with no apparent advantage ; but 
at length he informed them that he had turned his hives 
one degree more to the east, and so his bees, having two 
hours the start in the morning, got the first sip of honey. 
True, there is treachery and selfishness behind all this ; 

g6 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 

- - ■ - ■ - 

but these things suggest to the poetic mind what might 
be done. 

Many examples there are of a grosser interference, yet 
not without their apology. We saw last summer, on the 
side of a mountain, a dog employed to churn for a 
farmer's family, travelling upon a horizontal wheel, and 
though he had sore eyes, an alarming cough, and withal 
a demure aspect, yet their bread did get buttered for all 
that. Undoubtedly, in the most brilliant successes, the 
first rank is always sacrificed. Much useless travelling 
of horses, in extenso, has of late years been improved for 
man's behoof, only two forces being taken advantage of^ 
— the gravity of the horse, which is the centripetal, and 
his centrifugal inclination to go ahead. Only these two 
elements in the calculation. And is not the creature's 
whole economy better economized thus ? Are not all 
finite beings better pleased with motions relative than 
absolute 7 And what is the great globe itself but such 
a wheel — a larger treadmill — so that our horse's freest 
steps over prairies are oftentimes balked and rendered of 
no avail by the earth's motion on its axis ? But here he 
is the central agent and motive-power ; and, for variety 
of scenery, being provided with a window in front, do 
not the ever- varying activity and fluctuating energy of 
the creature himself work the effect of the most varied 
scenery on a country road ? It must be confessed that 
horses at present work too exclusively for men, rarely 
men for horses; and the brute degenerates in man's 

It will be seen that we contemplate a time when man's 
will shall be law to the physical world, and he shall no 
longer be deterred by such abstractions as time and 

Paradise {to be) Regained. 97 

space^ height and depths weight and hardness^ but shall 
indeed be the lord of creation. ''Well,'* says the faithless 
reader, '' ' life is short, but art is long ' ; where is the 
power that will effect all these changes ? '* This it is the 
very object of Mr. Etzler^s volume to show. At present, 
he would merely remind us that there are innumerable 
and immeasurable powers already existing in nature, un- 
improved on a large scale, or for generous and universal 
ends, amply sufficieBt for these purposes. He would 
only indicate their existence, as a surveyor makes known 
the existence of a water-power on any stream ; but for 
their application be refers us to a seqael to this book, 
called the '' Mechanical System/' A few of the most 
obvious and familiar of these powers are, the Wind, the 
Tide, the Waves, the Sunshine. Let us consider their 

First, there is the power of the Wind, constantly 
exerted over the globe. It appears fix)m observation of 
a sailing vessel, and from scientific tables, that the 
average power of the wind is equal to that of one horse 
for every one hundred square feet. We do not attach 
much value to this statement of the comparative power 
of the wind and horse, for no common ground is men- 
tioned on which they can be compared. Undoubtedly, 
each is incomparably excellent in its way, and every 
general comparison made for such practical purposes as 
are contemplated, which gives a preference to the one, 
must be made with some unfairness to the other. The / 
scientific tables are, for the most part, true only in a / 
tabular sense. We suspect that a loaded wagon, with a ' 
light sail, ten feet square, would not have been blown so 
far by the end of the year, under equal circumstances, as 


98 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 

a common racer or dray horse would have drawn it. 
And how many crazy structures on our globe's surface, 
of the same dimensions, would wait for dry-rot if the 
traces of one horse were bitched to them, even to their 
windward side ? Plainly this is not the principle of com- 
parison. But even the steady and constant force of the 
horse may be rated as equal to his weight at least. Yet 
we shpuld prefer to let the zephyrs and gales bear, with 
all theii*. weight, upon our fences, than that Dobbin, with 
feet bracked, should lean ominously against them for ^ 

Nevertheless, here is an almost incalculable power at 
our disposal, yet how trifling the use we make of it ! It 
only serves to turn a few mills, blow a few vessels across 
the ocean, and a few trivial ends besides. What a poor 
compliment do we pay to our indefatigable and energetic 
servant ! 

Men having discovered the power of falling water, 
which, after all, is comparatively slight, how eagerly do 
they seek out and improve these privileges ? Let a 
difference of but a few feet in level be discovered on 
some stream near a populous town, some slight occasion 
for gravity to act, and the whole economy of the neigh- 
bourhood is changed at once. Men do indeed speculate 
about and with this power as if it were the only privilege. 
But meanwhile this aerial stream is falling from far 
greater heights with more constant flow, never shrunk 
by drought, offering mill-sites wherever the wind blows ; 
a Niagara in the air, with no Canada side;— only the 
application is hard. 

There are the powers, too, of the tide and waves, con- 
fitantly ebbing and flowing, lapsing and relapsing, but 

Paradise {to be) Regained. 


they serve man in but few ways. They turn a few tide- 
mills^ and perform a few other insignificant and accidental 
services only. We all perceive the eflfect of the tide ; 
how imperceptibly it creeps np into onr harbors and 
rivers^ and raises the heaviest navies as easily as the 
lightest chip. Everything that floats most yield to it. 
Bat man^ slow to take nature's constant hint of assist- 
ance^ makes slight and irregular use of this power^ in 
careening ships and getting them afloat when aground. 

/This power may be applied in various ways. A large 
body^ of the heaviest materials that will floaty may first 
be raised by it^ and being attached to the end of a balance 
reaching from the land^ or from a stationary support^ 
fastened to the bottom^ when the tide falls^ the whole 
weight will be brought to bear upon the end of the 
balance. Also^ when the tide rises^ it may be made to 
exert a nearly equal force in the opposite direction. It 
can be employed wherever a 'point d^appui can be 

Verily, the land would wear a busy aspect at the 
spring and neap tide, and these island ships^ these terrtB 
infirmce, which realize the fables of antiquity, affect our 
imagination. We have often thought that the fittest 
locality for a human dwelling was on the edge of the 
land, that there the constant lesson and impression of 
the sea might sink deep into the life and character of 
the landsman, and perhaps impart a marine tint to his 
imagination. It is a noble word, that mariiier— one who 
is conversant with the sea. There should be more of 
what it signifies in each of us. It is a worthy country to 
belong to — we look to see him not disgrace it. Perhaps 
we should be equally mariners and terreners^ and even 


^ ^ J 

.^ w 

^^^ J 4 -* ^ 

lOO Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 

our Green Mountains need some of that sea-green to be 
mixed with them. 

The computation of the power of the waves is less 
satisfactory. While only the average power of the wind, 
and the average height of the tide, were taken before, 
now the extreme height of the waves is used, for they 
are made to rise ten feet above the level of the sea, to 
which, adding ten more for depression, we have twenty 
feet, or the extreme height of a wave. Indeed, the 
power of the waves, which is produced by the wind 
blowing obliquely, and at disadvantage upon the water, 
is made to be, not only three thousand times greater 
than that of the tide, but one hundred times gi'eater 
than that of the wind itself, meeting its object at right 
angles. Moreover, this power is measured by the area- 
of the vessel, and not by its length mainly, and it seems 
to be forgotten that the motion of the waves is chiefly 
undulatory, and exerts a power only within the limits of 
a vibration, else the very continents, with their extensive 
coasts, would soon be set adrift. 

Finally, there is the power to be derived from sunshine, 
by the principle on which Archimedes contrived his 
burning-mirrors, a multiplication of mirrors reflecting" 
the rays of the sun upon the same spot, till the requisite 
degree of heat is obtained. The principal application of 
this power will be to the boiling of water and production 
of steam. So much for these few and more obvious 
powers, already used to a trifling extent. But there are 
innumerable others in nature, not described nor dis- 
covered. These, however, will do for the present. This 
would be to make the sun and the moon equally our 
Isatellites. For, as the moon is the cause of the tides. 

Paradise [to be) Regained, lOi 

and the sun the cause of the wind, which, in turn, is the 
cause of the waves, all the work of this planet would be 
performed by these far influences. 

" We may Btore up water in some eminent pond, and take 
out of this store, at any time, as much water through the 
outlfet as we want to employ, by which means the original 
power may react for many days after it has ceased. . . . 
Such reservoirs of moderate elevation or size need not be 
made artificially, but will be found made by nature very 
frequently, requiring but little aid for their completion. 
They require no regularity of form. Any valley, with lower 
grounds in its vicinity, would answer the purpose. Small 
crevices may be filled up. Such places may be eligible for 
the beginning of enterprises of this kind." 

The greater the height, of course, the less water re- 
quired. But suppose a level and dry country ; then hill 
and valley and '^ eminent pond^^ are to be constructed 
by main force ; or, if the springs are unusually low, then 
dirt and stones may be used, and the disadvantage 
arising from friction will be counterbalanced by their 
greater gravity. Nor shall a single rood of dry land be 
sunk in such artificial ponds as may be wanted, but their 
surfaces " may be covered with rafts decked with fertile 
earth, and all kinds of vegetables which may grow there 
as well as anywhere else.^* 

And, finally, by the use of thick envelopes retaining 
the heat, and other contrivances, " the power of steam 
caused by sunshine may react at will, and thus be ren- 
dered perpetual, no matter how often or how long the 
sunshine may be interrupted/' 

Here is power enough, one would think, to accomplish 
somewhat. These are the Powers below. Oh, ye mill- 

102 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 

Wrights^ ye engineers^ ye operatives and speculators of 
every class^ never again complain of a want of power : it 
is the grossest form of infidelity. The question is^ not 
how we shall execute^ but what. Let us not use in a 
niggardly manner what is thus generously offered. 

Consider what revolutions are to be effected in agri- 
culture. First, in the new country a machine is to move 
along, taking out trees and stones to any required depth, 
and piling them up in convenient heaps ; then the same 
machine, ^'with a little alteration,^' is to plane the ground 
perfectly, till there shall be no hills nor valleys, making 
the requisite canals, ditches, and roads as it goes along. 
The same machine, '* with some other little alterations,'' 
is then to sift the ground thoroughly, supply fertile soil 
from other places if wanted, and plant it ; and finally the 
same machine, '^ with a little addition," is to reap and 
gather in the crop, thresh and grind it, or press it to oil, 
or prepare it any way for final use. For the descrip- 
tion of these machines we are referred to " Etzler's 
Mechanical System," pages 11 to 27. We should be 
pleased to see that '* Mechanical System." We have 
great faith in it. But we cannot stop for applications 

Who knows but by accumulating the power until the 
end of the present century, using meanwhile only the 
smallest allowance, reserving all that blows, all that 
shines, all that ebbs and flows, all that dashes, we may 
have got such a reserved accumulated power as to run 
the earth off its track into a new orbit, some summer, 
and so change the tedious vicissitude of the seasons ? 
Or, perchance, coming generations will not abide the 
dissolution of the globe, but, availing themselves of 

Paradise {to be) Regained, 103 

fatare inventions in aerial locomotion^ and the naviga- 
tion of space^ the entire race may migrate from the 
earthy to settle some vacant and more western planet^ it 
may be still healthy^ perchance nnearthy^ not composed 
of dirt and stones, whose primary strata only are strewn, 
and where no weeds are sown. It took but little art, a 
simple application of natural laws, a canoe, a paddle, and 
a sail of matting, to people the isles of the Pacific, and a 
little more will people the shining isles of space. Do we 
not see in the firmament the lights carried along the 
shore by night, as Columbus did 7 Let us not despair 
nor mutiny. 

" The dwellings also ought to be very different from what 
is known, if the fall benefit of our means is to be enjoyed. 
They are to be of a structure for which we have no name 
yet. They are to be neither palaces, nor temples, nor cities, 
but a combination of all, superior to whatever is known. 

" Earth may be baked into bricks, or even vitrified stone 
by heat — we may bake large masses of any size and form, 
into stone and vitrified substance of the greatest durability, 
lasting even thousands of years, out of clayey earth, or of 
stones ground to dust, by the application of burning-mirrors. 
This is to be done in the open air, without other preparation 
than gathering the substance, grinding and mixing it with 
water and cement, moulding or casting it, and bringing the 
focus of the burning mirrors of proper size upon the same." 

The character of the architecture is to be quite dif- 
ferent from what it ever has been hitherto ; large solid 
masses are to be baked or cast in one piece, ready shaped 
in any form that may be desired. The building may, 
therefore, consist of columns two hundred feet high and 
upwards, of proportionate thickness, and of one entire 

104 AnfuSlavery and Reform Papers, 

piece of vitrified substance ; huge pieces are to be 
moulded so as to join and hook on to each other firmly^ 
by proper joints and folds, and not to yield in any way 
without breaking. 

" Foundries, of any description, are to be heated by burn- 
ing mirrors, and will require no labor, except the making 
of the first moulds and the superintendence for gathering 
the metal and taking the finished articles away." 

Alas ! in the present state of science^ we must take 
the finished articles away ; but think not that man will 
always be the victim of circumstances. 

The countryman who visited the city, and found the 
.streets cluttered with bricks and lumber, reported that 
it was not yet finished ; and one who considers the end- 
less repairs and reforming of our houses might well 
wonder when they will be done. But why may not the 
dwellings of men on this earth be built, once for all, of 
some durable material, some Roman or Etruscan ma- 
sonry, which will stand, so that time shall only adorn 
and beautify them ? Why may we not finish the out- 
ward world for posterity, and leave them leisure to -/ 
attend to the inner ? Surely, all the gross necessities 
and economies might be cared for in a few years. All 
might be built and baked and stored up during this, the 
term-time of the world, against the vacant eternity, and 
the globe go provisioned and furnished, like our public 
vessels, for its voyage through space, as through some 
Pacific Ocean, while we would '^ tie up the rudder and 
sleep before the wind/^ as those who sail from Lima to 

But, to go back a few years in imagination, think not 
that life in these crystal palaces is to bear any analogy 


Paradise [to be) Regained. 105 

to life in our present bumble cottages. Far from it. 

Clothed, once for all, in some '' flexible stuff," more 

durable than George Fox's suit of leather, composed of 
fibres of vegetables,'' " glutinated " together by some 
cohesive substances," and made into sheets, like paper, 

of any size or form, man will put far from him corroding 

care and the whole host of ills. 

" The twenty-five halls in the inside of the square are to 
be each two hundred feet square and high ; the forty corri- 
dors, each one hundred feet long and twenty wide; the 
eighty galleries, each from 1,000 to 1,250 feet long ; about 
7,000 private rooms, the whole surrounded and intersected 
by the grandest and most splendid colonnades imaginable ; 
floors, ceilings, columns, with their various beautiful and 
fanciful intervals, all shining, and reflecting to infinity all 
objects and persons, with* splendid lustre of all beautiful 
colours, and fanciful shapes and pictures* 

" All galleries, outside and within the halls, are to be 
provided with many thousand commodious and most ele- 
gant vehicles, in which persons may move up and down like 
birds, in perfect security, and without exertion. . . . Any 
member may procure himself all the common articles of his 
daily wants, by a short turn of some crank, without leaving 
his apartment. 

" One or two persons are suflScient to direct the kitchen 
business. They have nothing else to do but to superintend 
the cookery, and to watch the time of the victuals being 
done, and then to remove then^ with the table and vessels, 
into the dining-hall, or to the respective private apartments, 
by a slight motion of the hand at some crank. . . . 
Any very extraordinary desire of any person may be satisfied by 
going to the place where the thing is to be had ; and anything 
that requires a particular preparation in cooking or baking may 
he done by the person who desires it^ 

io6 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

This is one of those instances in which the individual 
genias is found to consent^ as indeed it always does^ at 
last^ with the universal. This last sentence has a certain 
sad and sober truth, which reminds us of the scripture 
of all nations. All expression of truth does at length 
take this deep ethical form. Here is hint of a place the 
most eligible of any in space, and of a servitor in com- 
parison with whom all other helps dwindle into insignifi- 
cance. We hope to hear more of him anon, for even a 
Crystal Palace would be deficient without his invaluable 

And as for the environs of the establishment : — 

" There will be afforded the most enrapturing views to be 
fancied, out of the private apartments, from the galleries, 
from the roof, from its turrets and cupolas — gardens, as far 
as the eye can see, full of fruits and flowers, arranged in 
the most beautiful order, with walks, colonnades, aqueducts, 
canals, ponds, plains, amphitheatres, terraces, fountains, 
sculptural works, pavilions, gondolas, places for public 
amusement, etc., to delight the eye and fancy, the taste and 
smell. . . . The walks and roads are to be paved witb 
hard vitrified large plates, so as to be always clean from all 
dirt in any weather or season. . . . 

" The walks may be covered with porticos adorned with 
magnificent columns, statues, and sculptural works ; all of 
vitrified substance, and lasting forever. At night the roof, 
and the inside and outside of the whole square, are illumin- 
ated by gas-light, which, in the mazes of many-colored 
crystal-like colonnades and vaultings, is reflected with a 
brilliancy that gives to the whole a lustre of precious stones, 
as far as the eye can see. Such are the future abodes of 
men. . , . Such is the life reserved to true intelligence, 
but withheld from ignorance, prejudice, and stupid adhe- 
rence to custom." 


Paradise (to be) Regained. 107 


Thus is Paradise to be Regained^ and that old and 
stem decree at length reversed. Man shall no more 
earn his living by the sweat of his brow. All labor 
shall be reduced to " a short turn of some crank/* and 
"taking the finished articles away/* Bat there is a 
crank — oh, how hard to be turned ! Coald there not 
be a crank upon a crank — an infinitely small crank ? we 
would fain inquire. No — alas ! not. But there is a 
certain divine energy in every man, but sparingly em- 
ployed as yet, which may be called the crank within — 
the crank after all— the prime mover in all machinery— 
quite indispensable to all work. Woald that we might 
get our hands on its handle ! In fact, no work can be 
shirked. It may be postponed indefinitely, but not in- 
finitely. Nor can any really important work be made 
easier by co-operation or machinery. Not one particle 
of labor now threatening any man can be routed with- 
out being performed. It cannot be hunted out of the 
vicinity like jackals and hyenas. It will not run. You 
may begin by sawing the little sticks, or you may saw 
the great sticks first, but sooner or later you must saw 
them both. 

We will not be imposed npon by this vast application 
of forces. We believe that most things will have to be 
accomplished still by the application called Industry. 
We are rather pleased after all to consider the small, 
private, but both constant and accumulated force, which 
stands behind every spade in the field. This it is that 
makes the valleys shine, and the deserts really bloom. 
Sometimes, we confess, we are so degenerate as to re- 
flect with pleasure on the days when men were yoked 
liked cattle, and drew a crooked stick for a plougL 

lo8 Anfi'Slavery and Reform Papers. 

After all^ the great interests and methods were the 
same. « 

It is a rather serious objection to Mr. Etzler's schemes^ 
that they require time, men, and money, three very super- 
fluous and inconvenient things for an honest and well- 
disposed man to deal with. " The whole world,^' he tells 
us, "might therefore be really changed into a paradise, 
within less than ten years, commencing from the first 
year of an association for the purpose of constructing 
and applying the machinery/' We are sensible of a 
startling incongruity when time and money are men- 
tioned in this connection. The ten years which are 
proposed would be a tedious while to wait, if every man 
were at his post and did his duty, but quite too short a 
period if we are to take time for it. But this fault is by 
no means peculiar to Mr. Etzler's schemes. There is far 
too much hurry and bustle, and too little patience and 
privacy, in all our methods, as if something were to bo 
accomplished in centuries. The true reformer does not 
want time, nor money, nor co-operation, nor advice. 
What is time but the stuff delay is made of? And de- 
pend upon it, our virtue will not live on the interest of 
our money. He expects no income, but outgoes ; so 
soon as we begin to count the cost, the cost begins. 
And as for advice, the information floating in the atmo- 
sphere of society is as evanescent and unserviceable to 
him as gossamer for clubs of Hercules. There is abso- 
lutely no common sense ; it is common nonsense. If we 
are to risk a cent or a drop of our blood, who then shall 
advise us ? For ourselves, we are too young for ex- 
perience. Who is old enough ? We are older by faith 
than by experience. In the unbending of the arm to do 

Paradise {to be) Regained, 109 

the deed there is experience worth all the maxims in the 


" It will now be plainly seen that the execution of the 
proposals is not proper for individuals. Whether it be 
proper for government at this time, before the subject has 
become popular, is a question to be decided ; all that is to 
be done is to step forth, after mature reflection, to confess 
loudlj one's conviction, and to constitute societies. Man is 
powerful but in union with many. Nothing great, for the 
improvement of his own condition, or that of his fellow- men, 
can ever be effected by individual enterprise." 

Alas ! this is the crying sin of the age, this want of 
faith in the prevalence of a man. Nothing can be 
effected but by one man. He who wants help wants 
everything. True, this is the condition of our weak- 
ness, but it can never be the means of our recovery. 
We must first succeed alone, that we may enjoy our suc- 
cess together. We trust that the social movements which 
we witness indicate an aspiration not to be thus cheaply 
satisfied. In this matter of reforming the world, we have 
little faith in corporations ; not thus was it first formed. 

But our author is wise enough to say, that the raw 
materials for the accomplishment of his purposes are 
*' iron, copper, wood, earth chiefly, and a union of men 
whose eyes and understanding are not shut up by pre- 
conceptions.'' Ay, this last may be what we want 
mainly — a company of '' odd fellows '' indeed. 

'^ Small shares of twenty dollars will be suflScient,'* — 
in all from " 200,000 to 300,000 ''— " to create the first 
establishment for a whole community of from 3,000 to 
4,000 individuals" — at the end of five years we shall 
have a principal of 200 millions of dollars, and so para- 

no Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers. 

dise will be wholly regained afc the end of the tenth year. 
But^ alas ! the ten years have already elapsed^ and there 
are no signs of Eden yet^ for want of the requisite fands 
to begin the enterprise in a hopeful manner. Yet it 
seems a safe investment. Perchance they could be hired 
at a low rate, the property being mortgaged for security ; 
and, if necessary, it could be given up in any stage of 
the enterprise, without loss, with the fixtures. 

But we see two main difficulties in the way. Firsts 
the successful application of the powers by machinery, 
(we have not yet seen the " Mechanical System,") and, 
secondly, which is infinitely harder, the application of 
man to the work by faith. This it is, we fear, which will 
prolong the ten years to ten thousand at least. It will 
take a power more than *' 80,000 times greater than all 
the men on earth could eflFect with their nerves," to per- 
suade men to use that which is already offered them. 
Even a greater than this physical power must be brought 
to bear upon that moral power. Faith, indeed, is all the 
reform that is needed ; it is itself a reform. Doubtless, 
we are as slow to conceive of Paradise as of Heaven, of 
a perfect natural as of a perfect spiritual world. We see 
how past ages have loitered and erred ; '^ Is perhaps oar 
generation free from irrationality and error ? Have we 
perhaps reached now the summit of human wisdom, and 
need no more to look out for mental or physical improve- 
ment ? " Undoubtedly, we are never so visionary aa 
to be prepared for what the next hour may bring forth. 

MeAAci TO OtiQv 8' lort toiovtqv ^vcct. 

The divine is about to be, and such is its nature. In 
our wisest moments we are secreting a matter, which. 

Paradise {to be) Regained. m 

like the lime of the shell-fish^ incrasts us qaite over^ and 
well for us if, like it, we oast our shells from time to 
time, though they be pearl and of fairest tint. Let us 
consider under what disadvantages Science has hitherto 
labored before we pronounce thus confidently on her 

Mr. Etzler is not one of the enlightened practical men, 
the pioneers of the actual, who move with the slow, 
deliberate tread of science, conserving the world; who 
execute the dreams of the last century, though they have 
no dreams of their own ; yet he deals in the very raw 
but still solid material of all inventions. He has more 
of the practical than usually belongs to so bold a schemer, 
so resolute a dreamer. Yet his success is in theory, and 
not in practice, and he feeds our faith rather than con- 
tents our understanding. His book wants order, serenity, 
dignity, everything,— but it does not fail to impart what 
only man can impart to man of much importance, his 
own faith. It is true his dreams are not thrilling nor 
l^right enough, and he leaves oflF to dream where he who 
dreams just before the dawn begins. His castles in the 
air fall to the ground, because they are not built lofty 
enough ; they should be secured to heaven's roof. After 
all, the theories and speculations of men concern us 
Hiore than their puny accomplishment. It is with a 
certain coldness and languor that we loiter about the 
actual and so-called practical. How little do the most 
wonderful inventions of modern times detain us. They 
insult nature. Every machine, or particular application, 
seems a slight outrage against universal laws. How 
many fine inventions are there which do not clutter the 
ground ? We think that those only succeed which 

112 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers. 

minister to our sensible and animal wants^ which bake or 
brew, wash or warm, or the like. But are those of no 
account which are patented by fancy and imagination^ 
and succeed so admirably in our dreams that they give 
the tone still to our waking thoughts ? Already nature 
is serving all those uses which science slowly derives on 
a much higher and grander scale to him that will be 
served by her. When the sunshine falls on the path of 
the poet, he enjoys all those pure benefits and pleasures 
which the arts slowly and partially realize from age to 
age. The winds which fan his cheek waft him the sum 
of that profit and happiness which their lagging inven- 
tions supply. 

The chief fault of this book is, that it aims to secure 
the greatest degree of gross comfort and pleasure merely. 
It paints a Mahometan's heaven, and stops short with 
singular abruptness when we think it is drawing near to 
the precincts of the Christian's, — and we trust we have 
not made here a distinction without a difference. Un- 
doubtedly if we were to reform this outward life truly 
and thoroughly, we should find no duty of the inner 
omitted. It would be employment for our whole nature ; 
and what we should do theriBafter would be as vain a 
question as to ask the bird what it will do when its nest 
is built and its brood reared. But a moral reform must 
take place first, and then the necessity of the other will 
be superseded, and we shall sail and plough by its force 
alone. There is a speedier way than the *' Mechanical 
System '' can show to fill up marshes, to drown the roar 
of the waves, to tame hyenas, secure agreeable environs, 
diversify the land, and refresh it with " rivulets of sweet 
water,'' and that is by the power of rectitude and true 

Paradise {to be) Regained. 113 

behavior. It is only for a little while, only occasionally, |\ 
methinks, that we want a garden. Surely a good man ^ 
need not be at the labor to level a hill for the sake of a 
prospect, or raise fruits and flowers, and construct float- 
ing islands, for the sake of a paradise. He enjoys better 
prospects than lie behind any hill. Where an angel 
travels it will be paradise all the way, but where Satan 
travels it will be burning marl and cinders. What says 
Veeshnoo Sarraa? "He whose mind is at ease is possessed 
of all riches. Is it not the same to one whose foot is 
enclosed in a shoe, as if the whole surface of the earth 
were covered with leather ? '^ 

He who is conversant with the supernal powers will 
not worship these inferior deities of the wind', waves, 
tide, and sunshine. But we would not disparage the 
importance of such calculations as we have described. 
They are truths in physics, because they are true in 
ethics. The moral powers no one would presume to cal- 
culate. Suppose we could compare the moral with the 
physical, and say how many horse-power the force of 
love, for instance, blowing on every square foot of a 
man^s soul, would equal. No doubt we are well aware 
of this force ; figures would not increase our respect for 
it ; the sunshine is equal to but one ray of its heat. The 
light of the sun is but the shadow of love. '^The souls 
of men loving and fearing God,^' says Raleigh, " receive 
influence from that divine light itself, whereof the sun^s 
clarity, and that of the stars, is by Plato called but a 
shadow. Lumen est umbra Dei, Deus est Lumen Lu* 
minis. Light is the shadow of God^s brightness, who is 
the light of light,^^ and, we may add, the heat of heat. 
Love is the wind, the tide, the waves, the sunshine. Its 


114 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers. 

'-■'■' I ■ ■ T I ■ ■ ■ I I ■ 111 III I ■ I - ^ I ■ ■ ■ !■ I ■■ I I ■ » ^ 

power is incalculable ; it is many horse-power. It never 
ceases^ it never slacks ; it can move the globe without a 
resting-place ; it can warm without fire ; it can feed with- 
out meat ; it can clothe without garments ; it can shelter 
without roof; it can make a paradise within which will 
dispense with a paradise without. But though the wisest 
men in all ages have labored to publish this force, and 
every human heart is, sooner or later, more or less, made 
to feel it, yet how little is actually applied to social ends. 
True, it is the motive-power of all successful social ma- 
chinery ; but, as in physics we have made the elements 
do only a little drudgery for us, steam to take the place 
of a few horses, wind of a few oars, water of a few cranks 
and hand-mills; as the mechanical forces have not yet 
been generously and largely applied to make the physical 
world answer to the ideal, so the power of love has 
been but meanly and sparingly applied, as yet. It has 
patented only such machines as the almshouse, the hos- 
pital, and the Bible Society, while its infinite wind is 
still blowing, and blowing down these very structures 
too, from time to time. Still less are we accumulating 
its power, and preparing to act with greater energy at 
a future time. Shall we not contribute our shares to this 
enterprise, then ? 


At a lyceum, not long since, I felfc that the lecturer had 
chosen a theme too foreign to himself, and so failed to 
interest me as much as he might have done. He de- 
scribed things not in or near to his heart, but toward 
his extremities and superficies. There was, in this sense, 
no truly central or centralizing thought in the lecture. 
I would have had him deal with his privatest experience, 
as the poet does. The greatest compliment that was 
ever paid me was when one asked me what / thought, 
and attended to my answer. I am surprised, as well as 
delighted, when this happens, it is such a rare use he 
would make of me, as if he were acqu ainted with the 
tool. Commonly, if men want anything of me, it is 
only to know how many acres I make of their land, — 
since I am a surveyor, — or, at 'most, what trivial news I 
have burdened myself with. They never will go to law 
for my meat ; they prefer the shell. A man once came 
a considerable distance to ask me to lecture on Slavery ; 
but on conversing with him, I found that he and his 
clique expected seven-eighths of the lecture to be theirs, 
and only one-eighth mine; so I declined. I take it 
for granted, when I am invited to lecture anywhere, — 

* Atlantic Monthly, Boston, October, 1863. 


ii6 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers. 

for I have had a little experieace ia that business, — 
that there is a desire to hear what / thinh on some 
subject, though I may be the greatest fool in the country, 
— ^and not that I should say pleasant things merely, or 
such as the audience will assent to; and I resolve, 
accordingly, that I will give them a strong dose of 
myself. They, have sent for me, and engaged to pay 
for me, and I am determined that they shall have me, 
though I bore them beyond all precedent. 

So now I would say something similar to you, my 

readers. Since you are my readers, and I have not been 

much of a traveller, I will not talk about people a 

, thousand miles off, but come as near home as I can. 

As the time is short, I will leave out all the flattery, 

,' and retain all the criticism. 

Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives. 

prhis world is a place of business. What an infinite 

buslle ! I am awaked almost every night by the panting 

of the locomotive. It interrupts my dreams. There 

is no Sabbath. It would be glorious to see mankind 

at leisure for once. It is nothing but work, work, work. 

I cannot easily buy a blank-book to write thoughts in ; 

they are commonly ruled for dollars and cents. Au 

Irishman, seeing me making a minute in the fields, took 

it for granted that I was calculating my wages. If a 

man was tossed out of a window when an infant, and 

so made a cripple for life, or scared out of his wit a 

by the Indians, it is regretted chiefly because he was 

', / thus incapacitated for — b usiness ! I think that there 

^j is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to 

' philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business?^ 

- There is a coarse^ and boisterous money-making fello-vr 



Life without Principle, \\^ 

ia the outskirts of our town, who is going to build a 
bank-wall under the hill along the edge of his meadow. 
The powers have put this into his head to keep him 
out of mischief, and he wishes me to spend three weeks 
digging there with him. The result will be that he will 
perhaps get some more money to hoard, and leave for 
his heirs to spend foolishly. If I do this, most will 
commend me as an industrious and hard-working man ; 
but if I choose to devote myielf to certain labors whicln 
yield more real profit, though but little money, they I 
may be inclined to look on me as an idler. Neverthe- 
less, as I do not need the police of meaningless labor / 
to regulate me, and do not see anything absolutely 
praiseworthy in this fellow^s undertaking, any more than 
in many an enterprise of our own or foreign governments, 
however amusing it may be to him or them, I prefer to 
finish my education at a different school, 
t If a man walk in the woods for love of them half 
of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a 
loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, 
shearing off those woods and making earth bald before 
her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising 
citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but 
to cut them down ! 

Most men would feel insulted, if it were proposed 
to employ them in throwing stones over a wall, and 
then in throwing them back, merely that they might 
earn their wages. But many are no more worthily 
employed now. For instance : just after sunrise, one 
summer morning, I noticed one of my neighbors walk- 
ing beside his team, which was slowly drawing a heavy 
hewn stone swung under the axle, surrounded by an 


li8 A nit- Slavery and Reform Papers, 

atmosphere of industry, — ^his day's work begun, — ^his 
brow commenced to sweat, — a reproach to all sluggards 
and idlers, — pausing abreast the shoulders of his oxen, 
I and half turning round with a flourish of his merciful 
\ whip, while they gained their length on him. And I 
i thought, Such is the labor which the American Congress 
I exists to protect, — honest, manly toil, — honest as the 
day is long, — that makes his bread taste sweet, and 
keeps society sweet, — which all men respect and have 
consecrated; one of the sacred band, doing the needful 
but irksome drudgery. Indeed, I felt a slight reproach, 
because I observed this from a window, and was not 
abroad and stirring about a similar business. The day 
went by, and at evening I passed the yard of another 
neighbor, who keeps many servants, and spends much 
money foolishly, while he adds nothing to the common 
stock, and there I saw the stone of the morning lying 
beside a whimsical structure intended to adorn this Lord 
Timothy Dexter's premises, and the dignity forthwith 
departed from the teamster's labor, in my eyes. In 
my opinion, the sun was made to light worthier toil 
than this. I may add, that his employer has since run 
off, in debt to a good part of the town, and, after 
passing through Chancery, has settled somewhere else, 
there to become once more a patron of the arts. 

The ways by which you may get money almost with- 
out exception lead downward. To have done anything 
by which you earned money merehj is to have been 
truly idle or worse. If the laborer gets no more than 
the wages which his employer pays him, he is cheated, 
e cheats himself. If you would get money as a writer 
or lecturer, you must be popular, which is to go down 


Life without Principle. 119 

perpeadicularly. Those services which the community will 
\ most readily pay for, it is most disagreeable to render. 
X ou are paid for being something less than a man. The 
State does not commonly reward a genias any more 
wisely. Even the poet laareate would rather not have 
to celebrate the accidents of royalty. He must be bribed 
with a pipe of wine ; and perhaps another poet is called 
away from his muse to gauge that very pipe. As for 
my own business, even that kind of surveying which I 
could do with most satisfaction, my employers do not 
want. They would prefer that I should do my work 
coarsely and not too well, ay, not well enough. When 
I observe that there are different ways of surveying, 
my employer commonly asks which will give him the 
most land, not which is most correct. I once invented 
a rule for measuring cord- wood, and tried to introduce 
it in Boston ; but the measurer there told me that the 
sellers did not wish to have their wood measured correctly, 
— that he was already too accurate for them, and there- 
fore they commonly got their wood measured in Charles- 
town before crossing the bridge. ^ 
The aim of the laborer should be, not to get his J/ 
living, to get "a good job," but to perform well a I 
certain work ; and, even in a pecuniary sense, it would ' 
be economy for a town to pay its laborers so well that ^ 
they would not feel that they were working for low ends, 
as for a livelihood merely, but for scientific, or even 
/ moral ends. Do not hire a man who does your work w 
C for money, but him who does it for love of it. ^ 
^ It is remarkable that there are few men so well 
employed, so much to their minds, but that a little 
money or fame would commonly buy them off from their 


120 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers. 


present pursuit. I see advertisemeiits for active young 
men, as if activity were the whold of a young man's 
capital. Yet 1 have been surprised when one has with 
confidence proposed to me, a grown man, to embark in 
some enterprise of his, as if I had absolutely nothing 
to do, my life having been a complete failure hitherto. 
What a doubtful compliment this is to pay me ! As if 
he had met me half-way across the ocean beating up 
against the wind, but bound nowhere, and proposed to 
me to go along with him ! If I did, what do you think 
the underwriters would say ? No, no ! I am not with- 
out employment at this stage of the voyage. To tell the 
truth, I saw an advertisement for able-bodied seamen, 
when I was a boy, sauntering in my native port, and as 
soon as I came of age I embarked. 

The community has no bribe that will tempt a wise 
j man. You may raise money enough to tunnel a mountain, 
but you cannot raise money enough to hire a man who is 
) minding his own business. An efficient and valuable 
man does what he can, whether the community pay him 
for it or not. The inefficient offer their inefficiency to 
the highest bidder, and are forever expecting to be put 
into office. One would suppose that they were rarely 

Perhaps I am more than usually jealous with respect 
to my freedom. I feel that my connection with and 
obligation to society are still very slight and transient. 
Those slight labors which afford me a livelihood, and by 
which it is allowed that I am to some extent serviceable 
to my contemporaries, are as yet commonly a pleasure to 
me, and I am not often reminded that they are a neces- 
sity. So far I am successful. But I foresee, that, if my 

Life without Principle, I2I 

wants should be much increased, the labor required to i 
supply them would become a drudgery. If I should / 
sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most / 
appear to do, I am sure, that for me there would be I 
nothing left worth living for. I trust that I shall never| 
thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage. I wish tot 
suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet notV;; 
spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer i^ 
'^han he who consumes the greater part of his life getting '; ^ 
his living. All great enterprises are self-supporting. \ 
The poet, for instance, must sustain his body by his 
poetry, as a steam \planing-mill feeds its boilers with the 
shavings it makes. \ You must get your living by loving. 
But as it is said of the merchants that ninety- seven in 
a hundred fail, so the life of men generally, tried by this 
standard, is a failure, and bankruptcy may be surely 

Merely to come into the world the heir of a fortune is 
not to be born, but to be still-born, rather. To be sup- 
ported by the charity of friends, or a government-pension, 
— provided you continue to breathe, — by whatever fine 
) synonymes you describe these relations, is to go into the 
almshouse. On Sundays the poor debtor goes to church 
to take an account of stock, and finds, of course, that his 
outgoes have been greater than his income. In the 
Catholic Church, especially, they go into Chancery, make 
a clean confession, give up all, and think to start agaiu . 
Thus men will lie on their backs, talking about the fall 
of man, and never make an effort to get up. 

As for the comparative demand which men make on' 
life, it is an important difference between two, that the 
one is satisfied with a level success, that his marks can 


122 Anti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

all be hit by point-blank sMots, but the other, however 
low and unsuccessful his life may be, constantly elevates 
his aim, though at a very slight angle to the horizon. I 
shoftld much rather be the last man, — though, as the 
Orientals say, '' Greatness dothnot approach him who is 
forever looking down ; and all those who are looking 
high are growing poof /^ 

It is remarkable that there is little or nothing to be 
remembered written on the subject of getting a living : 
how to make getting a living not merely honest and 
\ honorable, but altogether inviting and glorious ; for if 
' getting a living is not so, then living is not. One would 
think, from looking at literature, that this question had 
never disturbed a solitary individual's musings. Is it 
that men are too much disgusted with their experience to 
' speak of it ? The lesson of value which money teaches, 
which the Author of the Universe has taken so much 
pains to teach us, we are inclined to skip altogether. As 
for the means of living, it is wonderful how indiflFerent 
men of all classes are about it, even reformers, so-called, 
— whether they inherit, or earn, or steal it. I think that 
Society has done nothing for us in this respect, or at 
least has undone what she has done. Cold and hunger 
seem more friendly to my nature than those methods 
which men have adopted and advise to ward them off. 

The title wise is, for the most part, falsely applied. 
How can one be a wise man, if he does not know any 
better how to live than other men ? — if he is only more 
cunning and intellectually subtle? Does wisdom work 
in a tread-mill ? or does she teach how to succeed by her 
example ? Is there any such thing as wisdom not applied 
to life ? Is she merely the miller who grinds the finest 

Life without Principle. 123 


logic ? It is pertinent to ask if Plato got his living in a 
better way or more successfully than his contemporaries, 
— or did he succumb to the difficulties of life like other 
men ? Did he seem to prevail over some of them merely 
by indifference, or by assuming grand airs? or find it^ 
easier to live, because his aunt remembered him in her 
will? The ways in which most men get their living, 
that is, live, are mere make-shifts, and a shirking of the 
real business of life, — chiefly because they do not know, 
but partly because they do not mean, any better. 

The rush to California, for instance, and the attitude, ' 
not merely of merchants, but of philosophers and pro-; 
phets, so called, in relation to it, reflect the greatest \ 
disgrace on mankind. That so many are ready to live by . 
luck, and so get the means of commanding the labor of i\ 
others less lucky, without contributing any value to f 
society ! And that is called enterprisrej- I know of no / 
more startling development of the immorality of trade^ 
and all the common modes of getting a living. The 
philosophy and poetry and religion of such a mankind are 
not worth the dust of a puflF-ball. The hog that gets his 
living by rooting, stirring up the soil so, would be ashamed 
of such company. If I could command the wealth of all . 
the worlds by lifting my finger, I would not pay such a 
price for it. Even Mahomet knew that God did not \ 
make this world in jest, /it makes God to be a moneyed 
gentlemen who scatters a handful of pennies in order to 
see mankind scramble for them^^ The world^s raffle ! A 
subsistence in the domains of Nature a thing to be raffled 
for I What a comment, what a satire, on our institutions! 
The conclusion will be, that mankind will hang itself 
upon a tree. And have all the precepts in all the Bibles 

124 An ti' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

taught men only this ? and is the last and most admir- 
able invention of the human race only an improved muck- 
rake ? Is this the ground on which Orientals and Occi- 
dentals meet ? Did God direct us so to get our living, 
digging where we never planted, — and He would, per- 
chance, reward us with lumps of gold ? 

God gave the righteous man a certificate entitling him 
to food and raiment, but the unrighteous man found a 

. faC'simile of the same in God^s coflTers, and appropriated 
it, and obtained food and raiment like the former. It is 
one of the most extensive systems of counterfeiting that 
the world has seen. I did not know that mankind were 

' suffering for want of gold. I have seen a little of it. I 
know that it is very malleable, but not so malleable as 

\ wit. A grain of gold will gild a great surface, but not so 

\| much as a grain of wisdom. 

The gold-digger in the ravines of the mountains is as 
much a gambler as his fellow in the saloons of San Fran- 
cisco. What difEerence does it make, whether you shake 
dirt or shake dice ? If you win, society is the loser. 
The gold-digger is the enemy of the honest laborer, what- 
ever checks and compensations there may be. It is not 
enough to tell me that you worked hard to get your gold. 
So does the devil work hard. The way of transgressors 
may be hard in many respects. The humblest observer 
who goes to the mines sees and says that gold-digging is 
of the character of a lottery ; the gold thus obtained is 
not the same thing with the wages of honest toil. But, 
practically, he forgets what he has seen, for he has seen 
only the fact, not the principle, and goes into trade there, 
that is, buys a ticket in what commonly proves another 
lottery, where the fact is not so obvious. 

Life without Principle, 125 

After reading Hewitt's account of the Australian gold- 
diggings one evening, I had in my mind's eye, all night, 
the numerous valleys, with their streams, all cut up with 
foul pits, from ten to one hundred feet deep, and half a 
dozen feet across, as close as they can be dug, and partly 
filled with water, — the locality to which men furiously 
rush to probe for their fortunes, — uncertain where they 
shall break ground, — not knowing but the gold is under 
their camp itself, — sometimes digging one hundred and 
sixty feet before they strike the vein, or then missing it 
by a foot, — turned into demons, and regardless of each 
other's rights, in their thirst for riches, — whole valleys, 
for thirty miles, suddenly honeycombed by the pits of 
the miners, so that even hundreds are drowned in them, 
— standing in water, and covered with mud and clay, they 
work night and day, dying of exposure and disease. 
Having read this, and partly forgotten it, I was thinking, 
accidentally, of my own unsatisfactory life, doing as others 
do ; and with that vision of the diggings still before me, 
I asked myself, why I might not be washing some gold 
daily, though it were only the finest particles, — why 1 
might not sink a shaft down to the gold within me, and 
work that mine. There is a Ballarat, a Bendigo, for you, 
— what though it were a sulky-gully ? At any rate, I 
might pursue some path, however solitary and narrow' 
and crooked, in which I could walk with love and rever- 
ence. Wherever a man separates from the multitude, 
and goes his own way in this mood, there indeed is a 
fork in the road, though ordinary travellers may see ^ 
only a gap in the paling. His solitary path across-lots 
Vill turn out the higher way of the two. 

Men rush to California and Australia as if the true 

126 Anti-Slavery a7id Reform Papers. 

gold were to be found in that direction; but that is to go 
to the very opposite extreme to where it lies. They go 
n\ ! prospecting farther and farther away from the true lead, 
and are most unfortunate when they think themselves 
most successful. Is not our native soil auriferous ? 
Does not a stream from the golden mountains flow 
through our native valley ? and has not this for more 
than geologic ages been bringing down the shining 
particles and forming the nuggets for us ? Yet, strange 
to tell, if a digger steal away, prospecting for this true 
gold, into the unexplored solitudes around us, there is no 
danger that any will dog his steps, and endeavor to sup- 
plant him. He may claim and undermine the whole 
valley even, both the cultivated and the uncultivated 
portions, his whole life long in peace, for no one will ever 
dispute his claim. They will not mind his cradles or his 
toms. He is not confined to a claim twelve feet square, 
as at Ballarat, but may mine anywhere, and wash the 
whole wide world in his tom. 

Howitt says of the man who found the great nugget 
which weighed twenty-eight pounds, at the Bendigo 
diggings in Australia : " He soon began to drink ; got 
a horse, and rode all about, generally at full gallop, and, 
when hfe met people, called out to inquire if they knew 
who he was, and then kindly informed them that he 
was Hhe bloody wretch that had found the nugget.' 
At last he rode full speed against a tree, and nearly 
knocked his brains out." I think, however, there was 
no danger of that, for he had already knocked his brains 
out against the nugget. Howitt adds, '^ He is a hope- 
lessly ruined man." But he is a type of the class. They 
are all fast men. Hear some of the names of the places 


Life witJwut Principle. 127 

where they dig : '^ Jackass Flat/' — '^ Sheep's-Head 
Gully/' — ^' Murderer's Bar," etc. Is there no satire in 
these names? Let them carry their ill-gotten wealth I 
where they will, I am thinking it will still be '^ Jackass / 
Flat/' if not '* Murderer's Bar/' where they live. 

The last resource of our energy has been the robbing 
of graveyards on the Isthmus of Darien, an enterprise 
which appears to be but in its infancy; for, according 
to late accounts, an act has passed its second reading 
in the legislature of New Granada, regulating this kind 
of mining ; and a correspondent of the " Tribune " writes : 
'^In the dry season, when the weather will permit of 
the country being properly prospected, no doubt other 
rich guacas [that is, graveyards] will be found/' To 
emigmnts he says : '^ Do not come before December ; 
take the Isthmus route in preference to the Boca del 
Toro one ; bring no useless baggage, and do not cumber 
yourself with a tent ; but a good pair of blankets will 
be necessary ; a pick, shovel, and axe of good material 
will be almost all that is required " : advice which might 
have been taken from the *' Burker's Guide." And he 
concludes with this line in Italics and small capitals : 
'^ If you are doing well at home, stay there," which may 
fairly be interpreted to mean, ''If you are getting a 
good living by robbing graveyards at home, stay there." 

But why go to California for a text ? She is the child 
of New England, bred at her own school and church. 

It is remarkable that among all the preachers there 
are so few moral teachers. The prophets are employed 
in excusing the ways of men. Most reverend seniors, 
the illuminati of the age, tell me, with a gracious, remi- 
niscent smile, betwixt an aspiration and a shudder, not 

128 Anti- Slavery and Reform Papers, 

to be too tender about these things, — to lump all that, 
that is, make a lump of gold of it. The highest advice 
I have heard on these subjects was grovelling. The 
burden of it was, — It is not worth your while to under- 
take to reform the world in this particular. Do not ask 
how your bread is buttered ; it will make you sick, if 
you do, — and the like. A man had better starve at 

ce than lose his innocence in the process of getting 
is bread. If within the sophisticated man there is not 
an unsophisticated one, then he is but one of the deviPs 
angels. As we grow old, we live more coarsely, we re- 
lax a little in our disciplines, and, to some extent, cease 
to obey our finest instincts. But we should be fastidious 
to the extreme of sanity, disregarding the gibes of those 
who are more unfortunate than ourselves. 

In our science and philosophy, even, there is com- 
monly no true and absolute account of things. The 
spirit of sect and bigotry has planted its hoof amid the 
stars. You have only to discuss the problem, whether 
the stars are inhabited or not, in order to discover it. 
Why must we daub the heavens as well as the earth ? 
It was an unfortunate discovery that Dr. Kane was a 
Mason, and that Sir John Franklin was another. But 
it was a more cruel suggestion that possibly that was 
the reason why the former went in search of the latter. 
There is not a popular magazine in this country that 
would dare to print a child's thought on important 
subjects without comment. It must be submitted to the 
D. D.s. I would it were the chickadee-dees. 

You come from attending the funeral of mankind to 
attend to a natural phenomenon. A little thought ia 
sexton to all the world. 

• Life without Principle. 129 

I hardly know an intellectual man^ even, who is so 
broad and truly liberal that you can think aloud in his 
society. Most with whom you endeavor to talk soon 
come to a stand against some institution in which they 
appear to hold stock, — that is, some particular, not uni- 
versal way of viewing things. They will continually 
thrust their own low roof, with its narrow skylight, be- 
tween you and the sky, when it is the unobstructed 
heavens you would view. Get out of the way with your 
cobwebs, wash your windows, I say ! In some lyceums 
they tell me that they have voted to exclude the subject 
of religion. But how do I know what their religion is, 
and when I am near to or far from it ? I have walked 
into such an arena and done my best to make a clean 
breast of what religion I have experienced, and the 
audience never suspected what I was about. The lecture 
was as harmless as moonshine to them. Whereas, if I 
had read to them the biography of the greatest scamps 
in history, they might have thought that I had written 
the lives of the deacons of their church. Ordinarily, the 
inquiry is. Where did you come from ? or. Where are 
you going ? That was a more pertinent question which 
I overheard one of my auditors put to another once,-— 
"What does he lecture for?'* It made me quake in 
my shoes. 

To speak impartially, the best men that I know are 
not serene, a world in themselves. For the most part 
they dwell in forms, and flatter and study effect only 
more finely than the rest. We select granite for the 
underpinning of our houses and barns; we build fences 
of stone; but we do not ourselves rest on an under- 
pinning of granitic truth, the lowest primitive rock. Our 




130 Anii' Slavery and Reform Papers, 

sills are rotten. What stuff is the man made of who 
is not coexistent in our thought with the purest and 
subtilest truth ? I often accuse my finest acquaintances 
of an immense frivolity; for, while there are manners 
and compliments we do not meet, we do not teach one 
another the lessons of honesty and sincerity that the 
brutes do, or of steadiness and solidity that the rocks 
do. The fault is commonly mutual, however; for we do 
not habitually demand any more of each other. 

That excitement about Kossuth, consider how cha- 
racteristic, but superficial, it was ! — only another kind 
of politics or dancing. Men were making speeches to 
him all over the country, but each expressed only the 
thought, or the want of thought, of the multitude. No 
man stood on truth. They were merely banded together, 
as usual, one leaning on another, and all together on 
nothing; as the Hindoos made the world rest on an 
elephant, the elephant on a tortoise, and the tortoise on 
a serpent, and had nothing to put under the serpent. 
For all fruit of that stir we have the Kossuth hat. 

Just so hollow and ineffectual, for the most part, is 
^^^^ our ordinary cony^ersation. Surface meets surface. When 
^ ^our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation de- 
generates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who 
can tell us any news which he has not read in a news- 
paper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most 
part, the only difference between us and our fellow is 
that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and 
we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we 
go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. 
You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks 
away with the greatest number of letters, proud of hia 

Life witJiout Principle, 131 

extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself l\ 
this long while. 

I do not know but it is too much to read one news- 
paper a week. I have tried it recently, and for so long 
it seems to me that I have not dwelt in my native 
region. The sun, the clouds, the snow, the trees say not 
so much to me. You cannot serve two masters. It re- 
quires more than a day's devotion to know and to possess 
the wealth of a day. 

We may well be ashamed to tell what things we have 
read or heard in our day. I do not know why my news 
should be so trivial, — considering what one's dreams and 
expectations are, why the developments should be so 
paltry. The news we hear, for the most part, is not news 
to our genius. It is the stalest repetition. You are 
often tempted to ask, why such stress is laid on a par- 
ticular experience which you have had, — that, after 
twenty- five years, you should meet Hobbins, Registrar 
of Deeds, again on the sidewalk. Have you not budged 
an inch, then ? Such is the daily news. Its facts appear 
to float in the atmosphere, insignificant as the sporules 
of fungi, and impinge on some neglected thallus, or sur- 
face of our minds, which affords a basis for them, and 
hence a parasitic growth. We should wash ourselves 
clean of such news. Of what consequence, though our 
planet explode, if there is no character involved in the 
explosion ? In health we have not the least curiosity 
about such events. We do not live for idle amusement. 
I would not run round a corner to see the world blow 

All summer, and far into the autumn, perchance, you 
unconsciously went by the newspapers and the news. 



132 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

and now you find it was because the morning and. the 
evening were full of news to you. Your walks were 
full of incidents. You attended, not to the aflFairs of 
Europe, but to your own aflFairs in Massachusetts fields. 
If you chance to live and move and have your being in 
that thin stratum in which the events that make the 
news transpire, — thinner than the paper on which it is 
printed, — then these things will fill the world for you ; 
but if you soar above or dive below that plane, you can- 
not remember nor be reminded of them. Really to see 
the sun rise or go down every day, so to relate ourselves 
to a universal fact, would preserve us sane forever. 
Nations ! What are nations ? Tartars, and Huns, and 
Chinamen ! Like insects, they swarm. The historian 
strives in vain to make them memorable. It is for want 
of a man that there are so many men. It is individuals 
that populate the world. Any man thinking may say 
with the Spirit of Lodin, — 

" I look down from my height on nations, 
And they become ashes before me ; — 
Calm is my dwelling in the clouds ; 
Pleasant are the great fields of my rest." 

Pray, let us live without being drawn by dogs, Esqui- 
maux-fashion, tearing over hill and dale, and biting each 
other's ears. 

Not without a slight shudder at the danger, I often 
perceive how near I have come to admitting into my 
mind the details of some trivial affair, — the news of 
the street ; and I am astonished to observe how willing 
men are to lumber their minds with such rubbish, — to 
permit idle rumors and incidents of the most insignificant 
kind to intrude on ground which should be sacred to 

Life without Principle. , 133 

thought. Shall the mind be a public arena, where the 
affairs of the street and the gossip of the tea-table chiefly 
are discussed ? Or shall it be a quarter of heaven 
itself, — an hypaethral temple, consecrated to the service 
of the gods ? I find it so difficult to dispose of the few 
facts which to me are significant that I hesitate to 
burden my attention with those which are insigniQcant, 
which only a divine mind could illustrate. Such is, for 
the most part, the news in newspapers and conversation. 
It is important to preserve the mind's chastity in this 
respect. Think of admitting the details of a single case 
of the criminal court into our thoughts, to stalk pro- 
fanely through their very sanctum sanctorum for an hour, 
ay, for many hours ! to make a very bar-room of the 
mind^s inmost apartment, as if for so long the dust of 
the street had occupied us, — the very street itself, with 
all its travel, its bustle, and filth, had passed through 
our thoughts' shrine ! Would it not be an intellectual 
and moral suicide ? When I have been compelled to sit 
spectator and auditor in a court room for some hours, 
and have seen my neighbors, who were not compelled, 
stealing in from time to time, amd tiptoeing about with 
washed hands and faces, it has appeared to my mind's 
eye, that, when they took off their hats, their ears sud- 
denly expanded into vast hoppers for sound, between 
which even their narrow heads were crowded. Like the 
vanes of windmills, they caught the broad, but shallow 
stream of sound, which, after a few titillating gyrations 
in their coggy brains, passed out the other side. r>^' 
wondered j|fAwhen they got home, they were as careful . 
to wash thjBir ears as before their hands and faces. It ' ^ 
has seemed to me, at such a time, that the auditors and 

134 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

the witnesses, the jury and the counsel, the judge and 
the criminal at the bar, — if I may presume him guilty 
before he is convicted, — were all equally criminal, and a 
thunderbolt might be expected to descend and consume 
them all together. 

By all kinds of traps and signboards, threatening the 
extreme penalty of the divine law, exclude such tres- 
passers from the only ground which can be sacred to you. 
It is so hard to forget what it is worse than useless to 
remember ! If I am to be a thoroughfare, I prefer that 
it be of the mountain-brooks, the Parnassian streams, 
and not the town-sewers. There is inspiration, that 
gossip which comes to the ear of the attentive mind from 
the courts of heaven. There is the profane and stale 
revelation of the bar-room and the police court. The 
same ear is fitted to receive both communications* Onlv 
the character of the hearer determines to which it shall 
be open, and to which closed. I believe that the mind 
can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending 
\ to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged 
with triviality. Our very intellect shall be macadamized, 
as it were, — its foundation broken into fragments for the 
wheels of travel to roll over ; and if you would know 
what will make the most durable pavement, surpassing 
rolled stones, spruce blocks, and asphaltum, you have 
only to look into some of our minds which have been 
subjected to this treatment so long. 

If we have thus desecrated ourselves, — as who has 
not ? — the remedy will be by wariness and devotion to 
reconsecrate ourselves, and make once more a fane of the 
mind. We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as 
innocent and ingenuous children, whose guardians we 

Life without Principle. 135 

are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we 
thrust on theii attention. Read not the Times. Read 
the Eternities. ^ Conventionalities are at length as bad 
as impurities. Even the facts of science may dust the 
mind by their dryness, unless they are in a sense effaced 
each morning, or rather rendered fertile by the dews of 
fresh and living truth. Knowledge does not come to us 
by details, but in flashes of light from heaven. Yes, 
every thought that passes through the mind helps to 
wear and tear it, and to deepen the ruts, which, as in the 
streets of Pompeii, evince how much it has been used. 
How many things there are concerning which we might 
well deliberate whether we had better know them, — had 
better let their peddling-carts be driven, even at the] 
slowest trot or walk, over that bridge of glorious span 
by which we trust to pass at last from the farthest brink 
of time to the nearest shore of eternity ! Have we no 
culture, no refinement, — but skill only to live coarsely 
and serve the devil ? — to acquire a little worldly wealth, 
or fame, or liberty, and make a false show with it, as if 
we were all husk and shell, with no tender and living 
kernel to us ? Shall our institutions be like those chest- 
nut-burrs which contain abortive nuts, perfect only to 
prick the fingers ? 

America is said to be the arena on which the battle of 
freedom is to be fought; but surely it cannot be freedom 
in a merely political sense that is meant. Even if we ■ 
grant that the American has freed himself from a poli- • 
tical tyrant, he is still the slave of an economical and 
moral tyrant. Now that the republic, — the res-publica, — 
has been settled, it is time to look after the res-privata, — 
the private state, — to see, as the Roman senate charged 



136 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

its consuls, " ne quid re.<j-PRiVATA detrimenti cajperet/' that 
the private state receive no detriment. 

Do we call this the land of the free ? What is it to be 
free from King George and continue the slaves of King 
Prejudice ? What is it to be born free and not to live 

\free ? What is the value of any political freedom, but 
as a means to moral freedom ? Is it a freedom to be 
slaves, or a freedom to be free, of which we boast ? We 
are a nation of politicians, concerned about the outmost 
defences only of freedom. It is our children's children 
who may perchance be really free. We tax ourselves 
unjustly. There is a part of us which is not represented. 
"^ Jjt is taxation without representation. We quarter troops, 
we quarter fools and cattle of all sorts upon ourselves. 
We quarter our gross bodies on our poor souls, till the 
former eat up all the latter's substance. 

With respect to a true culture and manhood, we are 
essentially provincial still, not metropolitan, — mere 
Jonathans. We are provincial, because we do not find 
at home our standards, — because we do not worship 
truth, but the reflection of truth, — because we are 
warped and narrowed by an exclusive devotion to trade 
and commerce and manufactures and agriculture and the 
like, which are but means, and not the end. 

So is the English Parliament provincial. Mere coun- 
try-bumpkins, they betray themselves, when any more 
important question arises for them to settle, the Irish 
question, for instance, — the English question why did I 
not say ? Their natures are subdued to what they work 
in. Their "good breeding ^^ respects only secondary ob- 
jects. The finest manners in the world are awkwardness 
and fatuity, when contrasted with a finer intelligence. 

Life without Principle, 137 

They appear but as the fashions of past days, — mere 
courtliness, knee-buckles and small-clothes, out of date. 1 
It is the vice, but not the excellence of manners, that 
they are continually being deserted by the character ; 
they are cast-off clothes or shells, claiming the respect 
which belonged to the living creature. You are pre- 
sented with the shells instead of the meat, and it is no 
excuse generally, that, in the case of some fishes, the 
shells are of more worth than the meat. The man who 
thrusts his manners upon me does as if he were to insist 
on introducing me to his cabinet of curiosities, when I 
wished to see himself. It was not in this sense that the 
poet Decker called Christ ^' the first true gentleman that 
ever breathed. ^^ I repeat, that in this sense the most 
splendid court in Christendom is provincial, having au- 
thority to consult about Transalpine interests only, and 
not the afiairs of Rome. A praetor or proconsul would 
RuflBce to settle the questions which absorb the attention 
of the English Parliament and the American Congress. 

Government and legislation ! these I thought were 
respectable professions. We have heard of heaven-born 
Numas, Lycurguses, and Solons, in the history of the 
world, whose names at least may stand for ideal legisla- 
tors ; but think of legislating to regulate the breeding of/ y 
slaves, or the exportation of tobacco ! What have divine 
legislators to do with the exportation or the importatioq 
of tobacco ? what humane ones with the breeding of 
slaves ? Suppose you were to submit the question to any 
son of God, — and has He no children in the nineteenth 
century ? is it a family which is extinct ? — in what condi- 
tion would you get it again ? What shall a State like 
Virginia say for itself at the last day, in which these have 

138 Anil' Slavery and Reform Papers. 

■ ■ ■ III ■ ^^^M^M^—I ^— ^^— ^ ■ I ■ I I ■■!■ ■ ■■!■ ^^M^^ I II I —^■—^^^■^^1 ■■■_■-■■■■ 11 ■■ I ■■■IMIM m^a^^ 

been the principal, the staple productions ? What 
ground is there for patriotism in such a State ? I derive 
my facts from statistical tables which the States them- 
selves have published. 

A commerce that whitens every sea in quest of nuts 
and raisins, and makes slaves of its sailors for this pur- 
pose ! I saw, the other day, a vessel which had been 
wrecked, and many lives lost, and her cargo of rags, 
juniper-berries, and bitter almonds were strewn along the 
shore. It seemed hardly worth the while to tempt the 
dangers of the sea between Leghorn and New York for 
the sake of a cargo of juniper- berries and bitter almonds. 
America sending to the Old World for her bitters ! Is 
not the sea-brine, is not shipwreck, bitter enough to make 
the cup of life go down here ? Yet such, to a great ex- 
tent, is our boasted commerce ; and there are those who 
style themselves statesmen and philosophers who are so 
blind as to think that progress and civilization depend on 
precisely this kind of interchange and activity, — the 
activity of flies about a molasses-hogshead. Very well, 
observes one, if men were oysters. And very well, an- 
swer I, if men were mosquitoes. 

Lieutenant Herndon, whom our government sent to 
explore the Amazon, and, it is said, to extend the area 
of slavery, observed that there was wanting, there ^'an 
industrious and active population, who know what the 
comforts of life are, and who have artificial wants to draw 
out the great resources of the country .^^ But what are 
the '* artificial wants '' to be encouraged ? Not the love 
of luxuries, like the tobacco and slaves of, I believe, his 
native Virginia, nor the ice and granite and other mate- 
rial wealth of our native New England ; nor are *' the 

Life without Principle, 139 

great resources of a country '' that fertility or barrenness 
of soil which produces these. The chief want, in every 
State that I have been into, was a high and earnest pur- 
pose in its inhabitants. This alone draws out "the 
great resources ^' of Nature, and at last taxes her beyond 
her resources ; for man naturally dies out of her. When 
we want culture more than potatoes, and illumination 
more than sugar-plums, then the great resources of a 
world are taxed and drawn out, and the result, or staple 
production, is, not slaves, nor operatives, but men, — i 
those rare fruits called heroes, saints, poets, philosophers, 
and redeemers. 

In short, as a snow-drift is formed where there is a 
lull in the wind, so, one would say, where there is a lull 
of truth, an institution springs up. But the truth blows 
right on over it, nevertheless, and at length blows it 

What is called politics is comparatively something so 
superficial and inhuman, that, practically, I have never 
fairly recognized that it concerns me at all. The news- 
papers, I perceive, devote some of their columns specially 
to politics or government without charge ; and this, one 
would say, is all that saves it ; but, as I love literature, 
and, to some extent, the truth also, I never read those 
columns at any rate. I do not wish to blunt my sense of 
right so much. I have not got to answer for having 
read a single President's Message. A strange age of the 
world this, when empires, kingdoms, and republics come 
a-begging to a private man's door, and utter their com- 
plai'' s at his elbow ! I cannot take up a newspaper 
bu* I find that some wretched government or other, hard 
pushed, and on its last legs, is interceding with me, the 

140 Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, 

reader, to vote for it, — more importunate than an Italian 
beggar; and if I have a mind to look at its certificate, 
made, perchance, bj some benevolent merchant's clerk, 
or the skipper that brought it over, for it cannot speak a 
word of English itself, I shall probably read of the erup- 
tion of some Vesuvius, or the overflowing of some Po, 
true or forged, which brought it into this condition. I 
do not hesitate, in such a case, to suggest work, or the 
almshouse ; or why not keep its castle in silence, as I do 
commonly? The poor President, what with preserving 
his popularity and doing his duty, is completely bewil- 
dered. The newspapers are the ruling power. Any 
other government is reduced to a few marines at Foi 
Independence. If a man neglects to read the Dajfiy 
Times, government will go down on its knees to him, \ot 
this is the only treason in these days. 

Those things which now most engage the attention of 
men, a^ politics and the daily routine, are, it is true, vital 
functions of human society, but should be unconsciously 
performed, like the corresponding functions of the physi- 
cal body. They are m/ra-human, a kind of vegetation. 
I sometimes awake to a half-consciousness of them going 
on about me, as a man may become conscious of some of 
the processes of digestion in a morbid state, and so have 
the dyspepsia, as it is called. It is as if a thinker sub- 
mitted himself to be rasped by the gre3,t gizzard of 
creation. Politics is, as it were, the gizzard of society, 
all of grit and gravel, and the two political parties are 
its two opposite halves, — sometimes split into quarters, 
it may be, which grind on each other. Not only individ- 
uals, but states, have thus a confirmed dyspepsia, which 
expresses itself, you can imagine by what sort of elo- 

Life without Principle. 14 1 

quence. Thus our life is not altogether a forgetting, but 
also, alas ! to a great extent, a remembering, of that 
which we should never have been conscious of, certainly 
not in our waking hours. Why should we not meet, not 
always as dyspeptics, to tell our bad dreams, but some- 
times as eupeptics, to congratulate each other on the 
ever-glorious morning ? I do not make an exorbitant 
demand, surely. 

Butlslf & Taontf, The S«l«uud PruaUug Wurlu, f rolui. aud LouduO'